Marduk Technologies is operating in the future already today. The future is a reality where robots fight robots. AI vs AI. More specifically, Marduk slays the bad drones. The next-generation ones which operate in radio silence and spy. Or carry drugs and other illegal substances. Or maybe want to take down planes.
“During the past year, there were tens of thousands of illegal drone incidents reported near airports and other critical infrastructures around the world. Our job is to help make these areas safe again,” says Marduk Technologies CEO Martin Simon.
Talking to the Marduk team, I learned that the regular drones – as they are now quite regular, like smartphones and take photos of weddings and film concerts or deliver us meds or pizzas – operate over radio communication, and this communication can be scrambled. But the next generation ones operate in radio silence and have a sufficient enough brain to spy (e.g. on borders or around strategic installations), transport (e.g. illegal substances), and interfere (e.g. with plane traffic).
“Drones have reached level 4 autonomous capabilities, meaning they can be thrown into uncharted territory and operate autonomously – without GPS, 4G or human piloting,” added Martin Simon.
Huge market potential
The value of this market reached $22.5bn last year, according to Drone Industry Insights, a German research firm with its eye on the business. By 2025 that figure is expected to exceed $42bn.
So the market potential is huge. And a lot of countries have not still regulated it at all or enough. DJI, the world’s biggest civil drone manufacturer, has to equip all drones with responders so they would be visible. But if bad people have bad ideas, they can order a drone from eBay for $500-1000 and do whatever they want. As the three-day closure of the Gatwick airport in 2018, the attacks on two major Saudi oil refineries in 2019, and the Turkish and Israeli drone interference in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020 proved.
Slaying dragons, slaying drones
But let´s dial back a little. Historically or mythologically speaking Marduk was the chief god of the city of Babylon and the national god of Babylonia, who slew dragons during the civil war in the ancient areas of Syria and Iraq. The founders of Marduk Technologies picked the name because they see themselves as the modern-day marduks – slaying drones, and often in the same region where the mythological Marduk did.
The target market for Marduk Technologies is naturally the defence industry, but also border control, and the aviation industry. “We have launched in the right time and place with Marduk,” the founders say. “Many European defense forces have the need to create a new component for their air forces – anti-drone and detection capabilities. This is where we step in.”
It is hard to imagine but today the defence forces often still detect drones with binoculars. They have impactful radars, of course, but these are meant to detect big(ger) flying objects and cannot detect small and compact drones.
How many drone jammers are there in the world, I ask the Marduk people.
“Around five hundred perhaps. But most of them actually jam the radio communication. Our direct competition might be around 10-20 companies. This is a market where a lot of overselling is done. Everyone and their uncle claim they can do this and that but the reality is something different.”
They go on to explain that in order to fight against autonomous drones you either have to have very expensive radars or electro-optical sensors. Even better, of course, would be a combination of the two because both solutions have their pluses and minuses.
“The best way to detect and fight autonomous drones is to use a multi-layered sensor approach, among which visual inspection is critical for verification and precise tracking. And this is precisely what Marduk is focusing on,” the company’s CEO says.
Cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Defence
Marduk themselves are in between the proof-of-concept and validation phase. They have tested their systems at the Ämari Air Base where the allied forces are helping Estonia to man the NATO eastern border with Russia. And the company is in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Defence.
„Because of our limited resources and capability requirements, Estonia must be creative and take innovative approaches in supporting defense technology development. One way to help Estonian defence companies to grow is through Estonian MOD’s yearly defence innovation competition. A few years ago, Marduk Technologies won a reasonable amount of money in this competition for product development,” comments Mr. Andres Sang, Director of the MOD Defence Investments Department. “We see that their C-UAV technology has great potential in this growing market. We hope to see Marduk’s success soon. They are an ambitious company, actively participating in the EU defence R&D programmes and seeking international partners within global defence players.”
Recently, Marduk tested their system during the Spring Storm 2021 exercise. Its ability to detect and track microdrones as well as Fixwing-type drones (similar to a passenger aircraft, a fixed-wing drone relies on its long tilted wings to create a lifting effect while cruising). “We were very pleased with our tracking stability, which has improved over two times. Some interesting challenges emerged as well, most of which were solved ad-hoc in the field. Our developers were very happy, saying the outdoor office was the coolest they have ever worked at!” Martin Simon said.
The European Union has a regulation in place that states, among other things, that all drone pilots must obtain a competency and register their drones. And Estonia has rolled it out this month, too. “But it’s still a small piece of a big puzzle,” says Leet Rauno Lember, Head of International Programs and Sales at Marduk, adding “However, it does make the picture a little clearer. The biggest threat in the future will be illegal drones – flying without communication – and in a military sense, those that are fully autonomous.
Robots going rogue
As The Verge reported, recently, a number of publications tentatively declared, based on a UN report from the Libyan civil war, that killer robots may have hunted down humans autonomously for the first time. While the jury is still out on what exactly defines the so-called “killer-robot”, there is critical mass building amongst nations and international organizations to push for a ban for systems that have the capacity to autonomously identify, select and attack targets.
“It is precisely because of this type of situation that we want to help restore peace in the world with our product – in other words, to fight autonomous drones, which can also be armed,” Lember says.
Meanwhile, the UN is still conducting a review into possible regulations for laws, with results due to be reported later this year.
What’s next for Marduk?
As the company is ready to take in their first external investments – they are preparing for a 1.5 Million Euro seed-round – you may also find them in London, at the prestigious Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) that brings together the global defence and security sector to innovate and share knowledge. It connects governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders, and the entire defence and security supply chain on a global scale.
communications manager at the e-estonia briefing centre