Soldier receives more than one million euros to build military robots

Dusseldorf Marc Wietfeld received a good one million euros from investors to solve the Bundeswehr’s major problems. That doesn’t sound like much in the defense sector, where large projects cost billions. And yet the funding injection for the Bundeswehr officer and his start-up ARX Landsysteme, which develops robots for military use, is remarkable.

Because it is still a new trend that start-ups in the defense sector are even given opportunities. On the one hand, looking at Ukraine, military officials see that they will need new technologies to survive in the war of the future. On the other hand, start-up investors are now also opening up to the arms market, which many categorically excluded just two years ago.

The best example is the young Munich arms company Helsing. The just two-year-old start-up, which develops artificial intelligence (AI) for tanks, combat aircraft and submarines, has been considered Europe’s first “unicorn” in the defense industry for a few days now. These are start-ups that are valued by investors at at least a billion dollars. Even more important than the rating: The company has already received a relevant order and is supposed to equip Bundeswehr fighter jets with AI.

Marc Wietfeld is also developing new technologies for the Bundeswehr with his start-up. The multifunctional, AI-supported robots can deceive tanks, act as a mobile data center and secure radio connections, generate fog in case of danger and transport military equipment and the wounded. The smallest model carries up to seven kilos, the largest up to 450. The robots can be used individually and in groups.

First orders from European armed forces

The Berlin venture capital firm Project A, which is now joining ARX, believes in the market for the technology. Partner Uwe Horstmann is a reserve officer and has already invested in the Munich company Quantum Systems, which supplies reconnaissance drones to Ukraine. According to Horstmann, robots and drones would play a key role in future battles. In ARX he sees the potential to “create a European player in the field of unmanned autonomous ground vehicles”. He observes that Western armies are now relying more frequently on technologies from younger companies.

ARX ​​has already sold its first robots to European NATO forces; Wietfeld is not allowed to name names. Sales this year are expected to be several hundred thousand euros.

Test and experimental forces at the Army Development Office

The Gereon RCS for autonomous reconnaissance was tested at the military training area in Munster.

(Photo: ARX)

Sebastian Schaubeck, who builds military vehicles as managing director of ACS, also sees a growing market and opportunities for ARX. “Competition is high,” he says. But the established market participants are “sluggish” – ARX, on the other hand, is fast, inexpensive and “clever”.

Wietfeld: “The next big thing in warfare is small”

Marc Wietfeld helps by knowing the Bundeswehr from the inside. Since he was drafted in 2010 as one of the last conscripts, he has been first in the NBC defense, which ensures protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, then in the German-French brigade and finally as an officer candidate and officer in the hunter corps Infantry.

During this time, the founder saw problems in simulated battles that he wanted to solve with ARX. The 33-year-old describes one thing like this: “If my group is in the basement during urban warfare and another group from the same platoon is in an attic on the other side of the street – then the radio can no longer get through and we don’t know who is who.”

That’s why his robot “Gereon” will be used, among other things, as a mobile transmission tower. The unique selling point of his robots is that they are modular: soldiers can quickly convert them for other purposes. A casualty stretcher can be mounted on the robot, on which a sensor tower was just standing, “in just a few minutes and even under stress”.

Wietfeld’s philosophy: “The next big thing in warfare is small.” He doesn’t believe that billion-dollar projects like the main battle tank of the future will make the Bundeswehr more powerful. Rather, the troops need small, unmanned systems in large quantities that can be produced and modernized quickly.

Gereon 2

This model can be divided into two parts and then carried by soldiers in or on their backpack.

(Photo: ARX)

Lots of little robots instead of a handful of big tanks

He is not alone with such considerations. ARX ​​and Marc Wietfeld have also become aware of ARX and Marc Wietfeld at the Bundeswehr Command Academy in Hamburg, says someone who took part in a study phase on “War of the Future” there. “His ideas fit into the strategic concept of Mosaic Warfare,” says the Bundeswehr soldier.

The concept of “mosaic warfare” envisages fighting an opponent with numerous different systems because these are more difficult to defend against than uniform systems. If Wietfeld has his way, each company, which has an average of 170 soldiers, should carry four to eight of his larger robots. To this end, he suggests using 20 to 30 smaller systems, the loss of which would be easier to bear. According to the company, the cheapest Gereon model costs 30,000 euros and the most expensive 150,000 euros. This means that the prices are significantly lower than those of the mini-tank models of large defense companies such as Rheinmetall, Diehl Defense and Milrem.

>> Read about it: Germany’s most mysterious start-up receives its first arms contract

Theoretically, cannons could also be mounted on Wietfeld’s robot platforms. But armament is not planned, says the founder – because: “So far, soldiers have fought better than unmanned systems.” Robots should therefore ensure that the soldiers can concentrate on fighting

Robots should learn from each other using AI

This also requires AI. Controlling the many different systems would quickly overwhelm the soldiers. “We are working towards ensuring that the robots can be controlled with the same hand signals that infantry soldiers receive,” says Wietfeld. In addition, the robots should no longer receive individual commands, but rather larger tasks, such as “monitor the right flank” or “reconnaissance in this area”.

>> Also read: US special forces orders drones from German start-up

ARX ​​also trains the systems on which obstacles they can drive over and which they have to drive around. The robots should also learn from each other – for example, what different vegetation looks like. If a system learns something in action, “this information could be transmitted in real time via the Bundeswehr server to a system that is at home,” says Wietfeld.

From secondary school student to valedictorian at university

Marc Wietfeld’s career is unusual for a start-up founder. When Wietfeld joined the Bundeswehr, he had a secondary school diploma and completed an apprenticeship as a locksmith. In 2021, he completed his master’s degree in “Management & Media” at the Bundeswehr University in Munich as the best in his year. A certificate for an officer’s course states that he was “one of the top men in the lecture hall.”

In between there is a third educational path that sounds more like an educational detour: Wietfeld had to get his university entrance qualification twice because the Bavarian Ministry of Education did not accept the degree from Baden-Württemberg. He doesn’t seem upset about it anymore. Wietfeld says: “Everything turned out as I had dreamed and desired.”

More: Start-up Helsing becomes Europe’s first arms unicorn

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