Designers have to fly prototypes through uninhabited village before collecting €23,000 prize and possible army deal

The French DGA defence procurement agency has selected 10 micro air vehicle (MAV) designs submitted by universities and laboratories for the next phase of a competition which should lead to French soldiers being equipped with MAVs by the year 2010. The DGA launched the project last year and received 20 entrance bids from teams seeking to gain funding (Flight International, 9-15 July 2002).

The 10 selected teams, chosen by the DGA with the help of Dassault, EADS, Sagem and Thales, will each receive €40,000 ($45,950) to continue with the next phase of the project.

Successful designers will have to fly a prototype MAV on a course through an uninhabited village in central France in July 2005, following which an overall winner will be chosen. Compiègne University of Technology is leading the competition with its Auryon project.

The overall winner will then be given €23,000, boosted by money from the sponsoring companies, to develop an MAV likely to be the prototype for the French army's FELIN future infantryman programme. The losing teams have been given direction on how to improve their designs, and will be given smaller grants in February next year.

Although the DGA has not yet finalised its MAV constraints, the final vehicles are likely to be less than 0.5m (1.6ft) in diameter and weigh less than 0.5kg (1.1lb). It is hoped the MAVs will be able to carry out surveillance over a range of 10km (5.4nm), with an endurance of about 1h.

Technological challenges include maintaining the MAV's stability and course in windy conditions and miniaturising the power supply so that space and weight is left for sensor and communication equipment. As the soldier will not usually have a line-of-sight link with the MAV, ensuring datalink continuity in urban environments and providing the MAV with escape strategies if communication is lost must also be considered.

Source: Flight International