June 01, 2012
Credit: Credit: Nexter
When you think of European robotics, Nexter does not jump to mind as a major player. But during this month's Eurosatory show in Paris, the French manufacturer of the VBCI and Aravis armored vehicles and the Leclerc battle tank, among others, plans to change that mindset.
The company's interest in robotics dates back to the 1990s when GIAT Industries, as it was then, participated in the Syrano project with Thales, Sagem and Cap Gemini Sogeti. Only one demonstrator of this small remotely operated tank was made and delivered to the French army in 1999. This foray into robotics came to an abrupt end in early 2000 with the decision to concentrate on its core businesses: armored vehicles, guns and ammunition.
The company was later given responsibility for the upstream studies on robotics when the French procurement agency DGA's BOA network-centric project was launched. Then the French armed forces' involvement in Afghanistan, where improvised explosive devices (IED) have proved so devastating to allied troops, led Nexter into developing specific protection systems.
Today, “we have decided to make significant investments in the small (around 4 kg or 8.8 lb.) ground robots segment,” Olivier Brousmiche, Nexter's director for business development, told DTI in an interview.
Why, when there are so many players in the marketplace? “Because ours is faster, lighter, more powerful, has a greater capacity to evolve and is much, much less expensive,” Brousmiche responds.
The robot to be unveiled at Eurosatory—whose name will have a link to ancient Rome, as do other Nexter products such as the Caesar self-propelled gun—has been in self-funded development for just over a year. Brousmiche says Nexter has been working with French laboratories he would not name but that are claimed are world-renowned.
“We realized that currently available ground robots have a number of problems integrating because they have been designed as stand-alone equipment,” Brousmiche says. “And so we decided to fill this niche and design a robot which would be a sub-system of an existing one, or, in other words, integrate with a vehicle.”