Unmanned systems can greatly increase efficiency and reduce human exposure in hostile and dangerous environments. Jean-Claude Alcouffe, marketing and communications manager at ECA Robotics, speaks to Defence & Security Systems International about additional benefits the technology can bring to the defence markets and the company’s new products.

Can you please give us a brief history of ECA Robotics?

Jean-Claude Alcouffe: ECA Robotics established its notoriety in the ’70s by developing a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for underwater mine disposal. Developed at the request of the French Navy, it was the first time an unmanned system was integrated into naval forces. Since then, this ROV has been used by more than 20 navies in the world. In 2000, ECA Robotics introduced a complete range of UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) and AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), and, today, with the acquisition of the French company INFOTRON, which produces helicopter drones, we can say that our offering covers operations in air, ground and sea (on the surface and underwater) environments.

Unmanned systems create new opportunities and high expectations on the defence and civil markets. They provide new capabilities for numerous missions, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, special operations, asset protection and maritime route surveyance, as well as for hydrography and oceanography.

In these markets, ECA Robotics aims to remain a key player by offering effective solutions built on a deep understanding of our customers’ businesses, to capture their future capability requirements and truly reflect their needs and budgets.

Our policy has been strongly driven by this vision, and we learnt from experience that to continue making progress, it is essential we continue to focus our energy on developing innovative unmanned systems. That is why R&D is an important aspect of our activities.

The company aims to deliver high-quality products and services thanks to a certified ISO 9001 quality organisation integrating all the processes from design to customer support. We believe customer services are an important part of the confidence we gain from our clients. That is why services and products are closely linked within our different processes and are treated at the same level in our industrial organisation.

How can unmanned systems improve human safety and increase efficiency?

Unmanned systems provide great opportunities for armies and navies, especially when life is at risk. It is better to use unmanned systems instead of human when you conduct dangerous operations such as neutralisation of mines, inspection of the operational theatre and intervention in a toxic chemical area.

Efficiency is greatly increased by using unmanned systems. In fact, such systems can easily do things that are complicated and expensive for people to do, such as to intervene at 2,000m depth undersea, at 2,000m in the air or in a chemical-aggressive environment.

How do you think personnel tend to view such systems?

Unmanned systems can be viewed differently by the operators; usually they are welcome as they can do the dangerous – or the dull – jobs. But, if you tell the personnel that unmanned systems will replace them, that they will take over their roles, their feelings can become quite different. From our own experience, built over more than 40 years, we can say that humans are at the core of unmanned systems’ actions. They are very powerful tools handled by professionals.

Can you talk us through some of your newest products?

We are constantly improving our product range, but the exciting part when you have unmanned systems operating in air, land and sea is that you can combine them and develop innovative solutions.

In this context, the recent acquisition of INFOTRON provides a lot of new opportunities for our engineers. Therefore, ECA Robotics invests a lot in R&D in order to master new technologies and systems architecture, which allows us to maintain the edge over our competitors and better serve our clients.