If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the researchers at Steadicopter Ltd. should feel very proud.

The Israeli developers of a state-of-the-art pilotless helicopter were surprised last month to find its prototype had been stolen — presumably by someone who wanted to copy it — from their plant in Kfar Maccabi near Tel Aviv.

The Steadicopter, which weighs 14 kilos (30 pounds) and is 1.5 metres (five feet) long, had just completed its final test flights, according to CEO Tuvia Segal.

He said the helicopter was unique in that it was capable of independent flying without remote control.

“Many companies have tried but none of their tests worked,” he told Globes.

The burglars took no money or computer software during the break-in, leading the company to suspect espionage. According to Steadicopter’s Business Development Manager, Amir Rochman, the theft proved that the company is on to something good.

“There’s something positive that came out of the burglary. We’re on the right track,” he said, adding that the setback has only delayed the Steadicopter’s development schedule by a few weeks.

“The theft of the prototype has influenced our very short-term goals, but not the long-term goals. We have just completed a number of very successful autonomous flight tests, and were scheduled for some live demonstrations for police, military and other defence agencies and companies. Obviously, those demonstrations had to be delayed, and we now have to produce another prototype. However, since we have the knowledge, and the technology, we can deliver a new prototype with equal capabilities within the next few weeks,” he told UV Online.

What makes Steadicopter special? According to Rochman, the unmanned robotic helicopters, take off, hover, fly and land fully autonomously, and therefore, can be operated by novice-untrained users.

The Steadicopter is fully autonomous,” explained Rochman to ISRAEL21c. “The performance of flight mission can be implemented without the need of human control.”

Although major advances have been made in many of the technologies involved in developing a successful unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), such as visual guidance systems, high precision image sensing cameras, and aerial navigation systems, devising an effective stabilizing technology for the rotating-wing craft has proved a serious hurdle that has held back widespread adoption of UAVs for many applications. Steadicopter had developed a unique system that overcomes stabilization and flight control problems, paving the way for the first completely autonomous unmanned helicopter

“The system is designed for surveillance and control of designated areas, and provides real-time information to the command center for passing on to the operating ground forces

The helicopter is equipped with stabilized flight control systems, cameras for day and night vision and receivers/transmitters for real time operation and monitoring. The ground control system is composed of a PC with navigation and flight control software that enables the operator to guide the helicopter to the location of the event, using a digital map or an aerial image of the area,” said Rochman.

“During the course of the flight, real-time video images of the events are sent to the PC or to an external video screen with vital information for the control of the events on the ground. The system is designed to be integrated in a command control center operation, as well as a field mobile operation from a portable computer,” he added.

Steadicopter, founded in 1999, is a graduate of the prestigious TEIC (Technion Entrepreneurial Incubator Company) entrepreneurial program located in Haifa and has received grants from the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Israel Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

The development team of Steadicopter is working simultaneously on various platforms, to ensure that the final system will answer specific requirements of various markets and applications, in terms of size, payload, range, flight-duration and performance capabilities. According to Rochman, the Steadicopter will be geared to homeland security organizations including the Coast Guard and Border Patrols.
“As a second phase, we’re looking to high voltage line inspection, agricultural forest monitoring and environmental uses,” he said, providing details on the ways in which the new vehicle will be useful

** Law enforcement surveillance

Inspecting a situation from above is an invaluable tool to law enforcement officials. A specially designed, Steadicopter equipped helicopter would act as a ?virtual pole? in the air, hovering over a designated point. The craft would relay back to the command post high-resolution images of a crime or riot scene or serve as a temporary rely station.

** High voltage line inspection

Electric companies the world over commission the services of manned helicopter companies to conduct missions such as line inspections, insulators wash down and detection of thermographic problems. The drawbacks include risk to pilots, helicopters, lines and equipment; limitations due to craft size (can’t fly under lines or in high density building zones); rotor turbulence and high costs, and can be solved by the use of unmanned systems.

** Media coverage

Taping of live events (sporting events, rock concerts or breaking news) while hovering just above the scene could very effectively be covered using reliable UAVs operated by the reporter on the scene?for low cost and with reduced danger to people in the vicinity.

** Agricultural markets

Effective monitoring of crops for disease, insect infestation and weed control are crucial factors in agro-business profitability. Steadicopter equipped UAVs offer an efficient solution for scanning and monitoring large fields effectively.

According to Rochman, the Steadicopter can carry up to 18 kilograms of video equipment and will sell for approximately $125,000, depending on the electronic components installed. This is claimed to be only a fraction of the $1 million cost of currently available unmanned aerial vehicles of this type.

“We’re looking at a period of four months until the product hits the market,” Rochman said. “Our first thrust will be to the Israeli market, in order to get feedback close to the customers. But then we certainly plan to focus on the U.S. market.”