Small Drones Take Flight for Military Applications | Robotics

Small Drones Take Flight for Military Applications

The U.S. Army has tested the Black Hornet 3 UAV. Source: FLIR Systems

August 21, 2018      

Pratik Kirve

Unmanned aerial vehicle technology is advancing rapidly, and drones are getting smaller by the day.  drones are considered better because they are more agile, are harder to detect, and are easier for pilots to control. Recent drone research and development around the world has advanced the state of surveillance and drones.

For instance, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a honeybee-sized drone featuring a new navigation chip. The Navion chip is 20 mm square in size and requires only 24 milliwatts of power. It is capable of processing complex images at up to 171 frames per second.

In another study, the Jouhou System Kougaku (JSK) Laboratory at the University of Tokyo unveiled the DRAGON drone. This drone is made up of a number of small drones and is capable of changing its shape in midair. Moreover, it can determine what shape to take based on the space in which it is navigating.


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The global small drone market could reach $13.4 billion by 2023, according to Allied Market Research. Work on both general-purpose and military drones has gained traction.

U.S. Army orders suicide drones

The U.S. Army has purchased “Coyote” drones from Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor Raytheon Co. They are expandable and capable of operating alone or in a swarm. The Coyotes are equipped with a compact fire-control radar that is capable of destroying small UAVs.

Raytheon said at the Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. last month that it began to roll out the Coyote Block 1B variants to the Army to meet an “urgent operational need” because of the increasing threat to ground troops posed by enemy UAVs.

“We modified these vehicles to have small warheads to take down a quadcopter, for example, or other types of Class I or Class II UAVs,” said Thomas Bussing, Raytheon's vice president for advanced missile systems.

The Coyote drone was able to strike its target in 11 out of 12 tests carried out by the U.S. Army. In addition, Raytheon has tested its swarming capabilities with the U.S. Navy as part of that service's Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology, or LOCUST.

Raytheon has delivered more than 32 drones to the U.S. Army and the remaining order would be completed by the end of this year.

Small drones such as those from FLIR have raised interest for military uses.

Black Hornet small drone from FLIR. Source: FLIR Systems

U.S. soldiers add nano drones to gear

Soldiers in the U.S. Army will be equipped with Black Hornet 3 nano drones developed by FLIR Systems Inc. The Wilsonville, Ore.-based company also produces a wide range of cameras and related systems.

Taking a crucial step in its Soldier Borne Sensor program, these drones would assist soldiers who do not have an aerial support or satellite connection in gaining insights about their surroundings.

“This contract demonstrates the strong demand for nano-drone technology offered by FLIR and opens the way for broad deployment across all branches of the military,” said FLIR CEO James Cannon.

After beginning production in 2015, FLIR has made a considerable progress in terms of image resolution. The company has been working with the Army since 2016 on testing these small drones.

The Black Hornet can fit into the palm of someone's hand, has a range of nearly 2 km (1.2 mi.), and can fly at a speed up to 21 km/h (13 mph).

The UAV weighs 32 grams (1.12 oz.) and possesses onboard GPS and navigation systems. As the nano-drone technology makes more progress, militaries can expect more uses.

China employs birdlike small drones

China has strengthened its surveillance network with birdlike small drones. The Chinese government's “Dove” program has been building small drones that resemble birds.

In the past few years, at least 30 military and government agencies have deployed these fake birds in five provinces, according to the report by The South China Morning Post.

These small drones take similar to how birds do so, fly up to the speed of 40 km/h (24.8 mph), and have a wingspan of 50 cm (19.6 in.).

The Doves are equipped with high-definition cameras, -control systems, GPS antennas, and data links with satellite communication capability.

However, this technology is in its infancy. These small drones can be hampered by strong winds, snow, or rain. In addition, electromagnetic fields can disrupt their operation.

Pratik Kirve

About the author:

Pratik Kirve is a writer, blogger, and sport enthusiast. He holds a bachelor's degree in electronics and telecommunication engineering and is a content writer at Allied Analytics LLP. He has avid interest in writing news articles across different verticals.

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