If you’re in Afghanistan and see a toy-size helicopter flying around, it’s likely the British Army watching you.
The tiny ‘copters are a type of drone, called the Back Hornet, or more formally, the PD-100 Personal Reconnaissance System. Designed by Prox Dynamics of Norway, it is supplied via a British firm, Marlborough Communications, which has a £20 million ($32 million) contract with the military for 160 of them.
Each one is only four inches long, weighs less than an ounce and carries a tiny camera that relays video and still images to a handheld terminal. They can be controlled directly or programmed with flight paths using Global Positioning System coordinates.
Tiny flying robots like this can do the kind of surveillance a big version can’t. A full-size drone can only fly so low before ground obstacles become a problem, and they are big and noisy. If you’re trying to see if there’s a Taliban contingent behind the rocks just ahead of you, you need something small and agile. Or, as Sgt. Christopher Petherbridge, of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan, told the BBC: “We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset.”
The drones fly for up to 25 minutes, and hit speeds of 22 miles an hour. They can transmit data in a line-of-sight link up to six tenths of a mile. The camera can pan and tilt as well.