On April 24-26, 200 people competed in the very first Hack the Drone, organized by GDF Suez at Ecole 42 in Paris. On the jury and providing logistical support, the Centre of Excellence on Drones of the French air force.
Among the coders, dronists and engineers congregating in the amphitheater of Ecole 42 for the finale of GDF Suez drone-themed hackathon, a few uniforms stand out. As rather unconventional mentors of this type of event, the French air force and its Centre of Excellence on Drones (CED) are not only represented on the jury, they will incubate the winners of this hackathon, “the first of its kind” according to organizer Ludovic Parisot, project director of innovation at GDF Suez (recently renamed Engie).
In the end, 28 prototypes were developed over 48 hours on April 25-26 by 200 competitors, including many students from France’s top schools. The projects were divided into 4 categories: drones that inspect infrastructures or canalizations; drones that take measurements; flying objects that safely neutralize other drones; drones that design anticollision systems.
When the military challenges the geeks
All this titillates the curiosity of the military and the police force, confronted with the problems of intercepting aircraft and the proliferation of unauthorized overflights. In the series of wacky good ideas, a sort of green Pac Man puppet, inspired by the soft bags used by the Rover robot on Mars, literally gobbles up the target drone and bounces back on the ground, eliminating collateral damage that is frequent in interceptions, such as falling debris or a sharp propeller.
This prototype would be useful “to capture drones that are clumsy rather than threatening,” according to the pitcher of the Caméléon team, which intends to develop it with a fireproof foam projection that would fossilize the drone to be neutralized, for example in demining applications.
“The military wants to challenge geeks—for innovation purposes, but also to understand their inner workings and psychology,” Parisot explains. This kind of meeting also helps to get an idea of the motives behind rogue overflights…
Projects incubated by the military
Parisot adds that for one the officers present, a Ph.D in neurosciences, the hackathon is a “pool of concepts”. “On the issues of neutralization,” he continues, “we’re joined by the French General Secretariat for Defence and National Security (SGDSN), while antidrone and anticollision projects will be hosted by CED.”
In the neutralization category, PMCLab (university fablab, Paris) team’s winning prototype detects and localizes drones via a wireless network of sensors.
The grand winner will take away 3,000 € and be incubated for 3 months on the military base of Salon-de-Provence, accompanied by engineers from Engie and CED. “The goal is to transform these concepts into operational technologies. This isn’t just a marketing gimmick,” Parisot affirms.
Along with the air force, other institutional partners and industry professionals are congregating for this premiere. Standing beside the French General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) “to integrate legal issues from the beginning”, are the French Professional Federation of Civilian Drones and the Pégase aerospace cluster, as well as Bordeaux Technowest, Parrot drone manufacturer and Redbird provider of data via civilian drones. It’s a family portrait of the drone sector in France. But authentic hacker dronists are still lacking on the horizon.
List of 6 winners here
Read more (in French) : “Engie mise sur les drones et l’innovation”