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Tatra will take the power plant with it, says CSG Aerospace's vice president of development and innovation

Current technology trends are big data, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and advanced materials. All these trends also affect the development of traditional industries. CSG Holding sees the future primarily in new modern products that cannot be produced without adequate research and development activities - which is why it is now entering the Czech Head project as a general partner. "Our theory is that we work with partners to develop technological superiority. In this sense, I can mention the Tatra hydrogen-powered vehicle project or the application of artificial intelligence to sensory devices or specific information systems," says Bohuslav Přikryl, CSG Aerospace's Vice President for Research, Development and Innovation.

The industrial-technological holding Czechoslovak Group will be the general partner of the Czech Head project for the next three years and will present the Industry Award. Why did CSG enter this competition?

From the holding perspective, we start from the premise that if we want products to be applied in demanding markets, they must be built on our own technological development and the application of advanced technologies in innovation. There are a number of things tied to Czech Head. First of all, we need excellent industrial research and experimental development. Another necessity is the need to identify trends, ascertain their potential and the resulting strategic implications. Another important link is the need to develop CSG's own capabilities. The last area is related to monetisation, where we need to capture the future needs of our business and strategic partners. All of this must intersect, and this is where we expect the Czech Head's help. At the same time, we want to support Czech scientists and motivate them to further cooperate with industry. I am convinced that this will fulfil the basic objective of the Czech Head, i.e. to combine private investment with science and research which brings the right innovations.

What specifically are you doing to support research and development within the CSG strategy?

We assume that we should not have the ambition to carry out research and development on the premises of the holding if our partners can do it better. This also applies to partnerships with universities and other scientific institutions, with whom we are now very intensively defining specific areas of cooperation. Scientists need to apply the results of their research in specific industries. Our ambition in the field of industrial research and experimental development is to carry out only unique activities that are not implemented by our partners and that create product uniqueness and excellence. To do this, we have established an internal grant agency at the CSG Aerospace division level, where we try to create a space for companies and people working in them to do their own research and development. A certain percentage of revenue is earmarked for this. The program is in its second year and in that time we have already registered 23 applications for grant support.

This requires quite large investments. Can you specify them?

At the CSG Aerospace level, we are working with five percent EBITDA. So it is higher tens of millions of crowns to support our own research and development. These funds are directly linked to the performance of the division. In addition, we are developing cooperation with partner universities. Our ambition will be to get involved with our partners in joint projects supported by ministries, grant agencies or eventually by European funds. The next level is the mutual discussion of experts from practice and research organizations with the aim of sharing specific ideas, knowledge and experience. At universities, we also want to look for students who would work on our development projects, for example in the form of diploma or dissertation theses and internships. After graduation, we will then offer them employment. Of course, we want to provide space for further education to our employees. All this needs to be multi-resourced.

Do you already use any specific solutions from university students and teachers in practice?

I'm originally from a military background, so my thesis is that the winner is the one who gains and maintains technological superiority. This is now being demonstrated in Ukraine. Our theory of competing with our competitors is that we work with partners to develop technological superiority in the product range demanded. In this sense, I can mention the Tatra hydrogen-powered vehicle project or the application of artificial intelligence to sensory devices or specific information systems. Excellent research is carried out at universities and education lives there. We at CSG are not ambitious to do basic research, but we are interested in its applicability.

What are the current global trends in emerging technologies?

There is talk of so-called disruptive and disruptive technologies. These are big data, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, hypersonic technologies, quantum technologies, biotechnologies, human enhancement technologies and advanced materials. These technologies fundamentally change established patterns of behavior and generally accepted topics and present new opportunities. They are characterised by a high pace of innovation, stemming mainly from the dynamics of academia, research and private defence industry. And this is where we want to be, because companies that do not adapt to these technologies will find it difficult to develop further. Each segment of our production is characterised by its own purpose. When I take the Aerospace part, it is specifically about the application of these technologies to advanced sensor technology or to the highly current unmanned vehicle segment.

As you have already mentioned, in the Automotive Division you are also working on a prototype of the hydrogen-powered Tatra. At what stage of development are you?

Five domestic companies have teamed up with Tatra Trucks in Kopřivnice to develop a hydrogen-powered truck. Basically, it is an electric vehicle that is equipped with its own power plant. The prototype of the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle will be built on a robust Tatra chassis and equipped with a range of support technologies that will enable the vehicle to operate in challenging conditions. Performance and range must be at the level of current Tatra vehicles so that the customer does not have to compromise. So Tatra has set its goals high, and at the same time the carmaker realises that a fuel cell truck is not easy. Technically, it is certainly much more complex and sophisticated than an electric vehicle. The batteries used in electric vehicles are not promising here, because trucks cannot spend time on the road at electric chargers. Plus, they would need massive heavy batteries that would reduce transport capacity. The prototype will be ready for testing this year as planned, with the expectation of having a fully operational vehicle in the following period.

Isn't hydrogen as a fuel dangerous?

Everything carries some degree of danger. Due to the lower density of hydrogen and its required lower initiation energy, the issue of leak tightness, among others, must be addressed. However, if I stay with fuel, then in this case petrol can also be problematic.The high volatility means that petrol can easily ignite. Batteries in electric cars can also be dangerous in the event of a fire. Artificial intelligence implemented prematurely in an unsuitable environment can also be dangerous. We want to eliminate all risks as much as possible, but it is not always possible to do so 100 % objectively.

What are you addressing as the main direction of development of the entire holding?

In each development area we have a direction that is based on disruptive technologies. The key issue we have decided to address is artificial intelligence. We assume that it is not just a trend, but a necessity. We have the ambition to be able to implement artificial intelligence comprehensively in our products and in our environment. Another defining development direction is autonomous platforms, advanced sensor technology and, last but not least, the use of augmented and virtual reality. These are phenomena that we first need to understand and then take advantage of in our products of civilian, dual or military use. Overall, we want to increase our own innovation potential and innovation performance of our companies and thus the added value of our products.

Drones are growing in importance, and you are developing a new system to monitor them. What does it consist of?

Unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming a phenomenon, even in the civilian sphere. Our ambition is to develop a drone traffic management system, i.e. comprehensive airspace management, which should apply to all categories of drones. This is the principle behind our solution, which we first presented a year ago at the World ATM Congress in Madrid.

In connection with the issue of drones, I would like to mention the complex anti-drone system, which is primarily intended for the protection of objects of interest. The system is our novelty and currently uses 3D radar, combining it with other sensors, the user's C4ISR system and suitable effectors.

Are you more successful in foreign markets?

We are clearly an export company and 70 percent of our products and systems go abroad. Today, our products, from all CSG divisions, can be found practically all over the world - from the United States through Europe and India to Indonesia, for example.

Prof. Ing. Bohuslav Přikryl, Ph.D.

Vice President for Research, Development and Innovation at CSG Aerospace. From 2012 to 2020 he served as Rector-in-Chief of the University of Defence in Brno. In the previous period he held a number of important academic positions. In parallel, he served on a number of scientific boards, expert commissions or committees. He spent part of his career studying abroad. During his service in the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic he attained the rank of Brigadier General.

Interview for an journal E15.cz


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