M3 Systems: UAVs for surveillance and scientific testing

April 15, 2024  - By

An exclusive interview with Michael Gavart, CTO of M3 Systems. 

the Boreal UAV ready for departure on a maritime mission scheduled to last several hours. (Image: M3 Systems)

The Boreal UAV ready for departure on a maritime mission scheduled to last several hours. (Image: M3 Systems)

What is your role?

I am responsible for all the technical developments on the UAV.

Please describe it.

It’s fixed wing. It has a 4 m wingspan, a maximum takeoff weight of 25 kg, a carrying capacity of up to 7 kg and up to eight hours of flying time. What is special about this UAV is its size and the size of the payload bay, which is large enough to hold different kinds of payloads.

Do you have different versions?

We have a surveillance version, called BOREAL ISR, that has been used for several projects. Another use case for this UAV is to embed scientific payloads. For example, we had several campaigns for meteorology in partnership with Météo-France in the Indian Ocean to study cyclones and another in the Caribbean Sea to study tropical convection. We did several large scientific campaigns with Météo-France.

Most of the payloads we integrate are for scientific testing. Some of them are for cartography in the visible or infrared domain and other kinds of payloads involve radio frequency testing. Among them, we have, of course, GNSS.

The project we conducted in 2023 was a demonstration campaign for the operational use of this surveillance UAV. The campaign occurred from July to November 2023. It consisted of 20 five-hour flights, three of which were at night. In total during that campaign, the UAV flew more than 100 hours for about 8,000 km and captured data from about 20,000 sq km. This made it possible to identify hundreds of boats fishing illegally. In some cases, the country’s navy intervened and the UAV took live video of the operation to help analyze the scene.

The UAV also flew many operations over the tropical forest, some of them at night, which made it possible to identify some recent mining activities in sites that had already been destroyed some months before.

Another subject was forest fires. During one flight, we identified more than 20 forest fires and the firefighters were able to prioritize where to intervene to fight the fires.

What about flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)?

The radio link enables operators to fly the UAV from up to 100 km from the ground control station, provided that we remain in radio line of sight (RLOS) conditions. Additionally, the UAV has a satellite communication system to fly beyond RLOS in some cases. For some scientific missions, the UAV was flown beyond RLOS conditions using satellite communications, and we could fly up to 250 km from the ground control station.

The Boreal UAV is currently deployed for various kinds of terrestrial applications. (Image: M3 Systems)

The Boreal UAV is currently deployed for various kinds of terrestrial applications. (Image: M3 Systems)

When was this UAV first available? What is the market for it?

The first big campaign occurred in 2019, for scientific meteorology over the Indian Ocean. The BOREAL drone LAB, a scientific meteorology drone, was ready to operate in 2014.

A second product, (maritime and terrestrial surveillance use cases) was developed and ready to operate in 2021.

Are you selling large numbers of this UAV or only for some special missions?

Several of them have been sold to laboratories for science. From now on, we sell hours of flights as a service on the ISR product. Each drone is used for specific missions (surveillance in particular).

You rent it out instead of selling it?

We sold UAVs to laboratories and now we sell hours of flights as a service. We don’t rent the product. We have a drone fleet that allows us to conduct several missions throughout the year. 

How does all this fit in with M3 Systems’ other products and application areas?

GNSS development requires testing radio frequencies in flight. Our UAV is very useful for testing GNSS payloads. We also have a project to provide payloads for satellites. It is an intermediate step for testing these payloads in the air. The BOREAL drone also leverages the group’s expertise in ATM/UTM, making its integration into the airspace seamless.

What GNSS receiver is on the UAV? Also, what correction networks does it use?

The drone embeds a standard GNSS receiver and uses it for its own navigation needs without corrections service. However, through the PASSPORT project the objective was to demonstrate the added value of OSNMA encryption in the Galileo signal, particularly its anti-spoofing capabilities. To assess this, we needed to conduct a spoofing attack on receivers with the OSNMA functions. We used a Septentrio Polar X 5 receiver. Due to safety concerns, this could not be performed on the drone during flight. Instead, we recorded the IQ signal onboard the drone during the flight campaign and later replayed it in the lab for the receiver. During the replay, we introduced spoofing while OSNMA was disabled on the receiver and showed that spoofing was easily achieved. When enabling the OSNMA service on the receiver, spoofing was still possible but the authentication key was not received, indicating that the signal was not trustworthy. 

This article is tagged with and posted in From the Magazine, Latest News, UAV/UGV

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.