It's hard to tell how tiny this helicopter is from the above pic. But it's damn tiny. It's only four inches long (about 10 centimeters), and weighs just 16 grams, but will happily carry a pan-and-tilt camera that streams video back to a base station. It's called the Black Hornet, and it's . . . adorable.
In a military with an emphasis on big expensive robots like predator drones and PackBots, we're starting to see a different trend towards much smaller and slightly less expensive (but still quite expensive) robots designed for individual soldiers to use whenever they need them. No need to spend time calling in some sort of big fancy aerial remote sensing platform: you can just toss out your own personal recon bot, like so:
The robot is controlled with that handy little thumb joystick thingy, while you watch the video feed it sends back on a tablet. It self-stabilizes to make the flying easier, and there are autopilot modes including GPS waypoint navigation, hover and stare, and pre-programmed search patterns. The Black Hornet is nearly silent, has a range of 1000 meters, can fly for 25 minutes, and can go from pocket to flying in under 60 seconds.
When, at some point, every single soldier has personal robots like these to perform reconnaissance before putting themselves in danger, it's going to make a big difference. Heck, it's already making a difference to British units in Afghanistan:
Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the lightweight nature of it. We use it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground.
Black Hornet is a serious military robot, but we can't help but point out how much it looks like existing toys that you can buy for under $100. It's much more intelligent, of course, but at the same time, it's not that much more intelligent or complicated, and it's not a stretch to imagine a consumer version of this thing showing up in a few years. Just promise us you won't use it for anything nefarious, okay?
[ Prox Dynamics ] via [ UK MOD ] and [ Sky News ]
Images via TU
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.