Saturday, May 15, 2021

The scary history and future of Brazil’s booming drone market


by Lorien Olive and Orlando de Guzman

Felipe Castro da Silva, an engineer and UAV coordinator with AEL Sistemas, slipped on a black sports jacket as we began our interview. He was talking about the Hermes 900 unmanned aerial vehicle—a UAV or, in more common terminology, drone. A young man with salt and pepper hair, Castro was in Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling RioCentro Mall to dazzle the 40,000 of attendees of the Latin American Aero and Defense Exhibition with details of of Brazil’s newest medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone. We were next.

“This UAV,” he said, “patrolled the Maracanã Stadium during the 2014 World Cup and will be used again during the 2016 Olympics.” Able to fly for 30 hours uninterrupted, the Hermes 900 can reach altitudes of up to 30,000 feet and is used mainly for surveillance, reconnaissance, and communications relay. From the ground, it is nearly undetectable, he said.

During the World Cup, Castro added, the drone was fitted with a Sky Eye sensor, whose 17 cameras allow security personnel on the ground to track activity in an area of 100 square kilometers. It also has high resolution sensors, able to identify license plates and even faces at 30,000 feet. In terms of its capabilities, the Hermes 900 is comparable to its more notorious American counterpart, the MQ-1 Predator drone.

AEL Sistemas, based in Porto Alegre, became a subsidiary of the Israeli company Elbit in 2001, at which time it began developing a new generation of Brazilian surveillance drones using Israeli technology. But the Hermes 900 was just one example of Brazil’s growing role in the booming global market for unmanned aerial systems. The LAAD expo’s interior was filled with them.

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