SAO CARLOS, BRAZIL -- The jeans-clad engineers pace with youthful eagerness in this bungalow-turned-office in Sao Cartos, Brazil's nascent response to Siticon Valley. Ask them which contemporary Brazitian challenges they are working on, and they'll give a smattering of responses: illegal commercial sand extraction, lost persons at night in the jungle, and armadillo holes rooting up farmer's crops.
But this group is proposing one surprising solution for them all--their development of increasingly sophisticated drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), replete with the colors of the Brazilian flag and names such as Arara (parrot) and Tiriba (little parrot).
"It ends up demystifying this equipment, to show that it's not only restricted for military use but also something of daily use," says AGX Tecnologia consultant Jen John Lee in the basement of these homey headquarters. Going against the trend of Latin American nations purchasing Isreali-made drones for drug-war policing and border patrolling, AGX uses only Brazilian technology developed at the nearby University of Sao Paulo and sees its target market in the nation's growing agricultural industry and state "environmental police" forces tasked with monitoring illegal extraction of natural resources.
Brazil's Federal Police is indeed implementing a fleet of Israeli-made UAVs along its porous frontier to monitor drug trafficking. But the Sao Paulo Environmental Police has other objectives. They will be the first team in the state to regularly employ unarmed UAVs to monitor threats in rural areas, such as deforestation and illegal fishing.
For example, AGX used a series of temporal images to record illegal, extraction of sand from a bed in the river Mogi-Guacu for the police, says Bianca Kancelkis, the company's director for environmental projects. A piloted plane would both be more expensive because of skilled labor and need to have a take-off and landing strip often not found near the remote areas where environmental crimes occur. (AGX's newest UAV has a wingspan of three meters and is launched simply by throwing it.)
"Using this evaluation that was made by us, the police ... found the people who were doing this illegal activity," Kancelkis adds.
But AGX, which began running successful unpiloted flights in...