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Two French naval robotics companies unite under a new banner that looks to bigger markets

The Exail Pavilion at Euronaval in 2022. (Christina Mackenzie/Breaking Defense)

EURONAVAL 2022 – Two French marine robotics companies, ECA Group and iXblue, announced here at the show that they are joining forces, with their single brand replacing one new brand, Exail.

The new company, which will continue to operate in the fields of robotics, marine navigation, aerospace and photonics, now has a workforce of 1,500 spread across 21 offices in France and 11 in the rest of the world. According to company documents, its expected annual revenue will be 250 million euros ($244.4 million). It also has one of the largest stands on the show, displaying, among other things, mine action solutions and the eye-catching large, bright red DriX unmanned surface vessel (USV). More on that shortly.

The merger, announced Tuesday, is the latest twist in an evolution for both companies. Although the name refers to aeronautics, the ECA Group, which stands for Etude et Construction Aéronautique, has turned its attention to marine systems decades ago. Founded in 1936, it became a subsidiary of the family-owned high-tech company, Groupe Gorgé, in 1992 and although ECA Group merged with Gorgé in 2020, it has retained its own identity.

full coverage: Euronaval 2022

Gorgé then acquired iXblue on September 29, saving this year’s Euronaval ad, merging ECA Group and iXblue to create what it hopes will be a European high-tech industrial champion.

ECA Group has been a frequent subcontractor to larger European companies such as Airbus, Naval Group and Thales, supplying them with robots and drones for systems for a particular mission. ECA Group says its automated systems have been sold to more than 80 countries.

For its part, iXblue, founded in 2000, specializes in advanced navigation, photonics and marine autonomy solutions. But while the ECA Group has specialized in undersea robotic vessels (AUVs), iXblue has taken the plunge, developing DriX, which the company says can host a wide range of payloads particularly for high-quality data in both shallow waters. and deep. The eight-meter (26 ft) USV displaces 1.4 tons (1.54 tons), is propelled by a diesel engine and can sail continuously for seven days at seven knots or 24 hours at a maximum speed of 14 knots. It was purchased by a US government agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Polish Navy, the French Hydrographic Institute (SHOM), the French Institute for Research in Oceanography (Ifremer), as well as surveying contractors and operators in energy market.

Prior to the official merger, ECA Group and iXblue had been partners for a long time. iXblue, for example, supplies the fiber gyroscope (FOG) that gives ECA group robots their precise movements. The FOG has no mechanical parts that cause vibration or friction, so it is not only acoustically camouflaged and powerful, but because it relies solely on the movement of light, it is resistant to shock, temperature extremes and magnetic so that it can operate in harsh environments such as submarines, deep water robots, satellites and remote artillery Range and vehicles.

“In addition to our complementary activities, both companies share a common DNA centered around innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Fabian Napolitano, president and CEO of iXblue, in a statement. “This acquisition by Groupe Gorgé, which brings iXblue and ECA Group under one roof, will enable us to create new synergies and enhance our ability to invest in research and development to deliver solutions that are always on the cutting edge of technology.” He added, “Combining efforts under a common brand allows us to become a major global player capable of tackling new and larger markets, but also to unite our 1,500 employees around the same slogan.”

Dominique Giannoni, CEO of ECA Group, added: “By combining the technology expertise and global footprint of the two companies, we will deliver unparalleled value to our customers through our comprehensive suite of products and solutions.

Our world faces many challenges, whether they are security, environmental or societal. At Exail, we are convinced that developing disruptive technologies will enable us to meet these new challenges. He added, “This process reinforces our leadership in our markets and provides excellent growth prospects. The teams of the two companies have begun to work closely together. We see great development opportunities that we are eager to share with our clients.”

At the show, Exail announced that it had already formed a technology partnership with Mission Systems Pty Ltd, an Australian small and medium company whose technology will be implemented in Exail’s mine action solutions including under the Australian SEA 1905 Mine Countermeasures programme. Why 1905? Because if you write it in Roman numerals it reads MCMV i.e.; Mine Ship!)

Exail said in a statement that the partnership will focus on sonar simulation and machine learning. “It will enable Exail to match its naval drones with advanced technology from mission systems, providing the Navy with the next generation of autonomous solutions. Exail teams have already begun integrating Mission Systems technology into UMISOFT’s UAV Mission Management software in the DM (Data Management) module.”

She added that “future areas of cooperation could extend beyond MCM, to other military applications such as military survey and seabed warfare as well as naval civilian applications.”

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