Over a decade ago, drones weren't nearly as known by the mainstream as they are today. If you heard about them, it was likely in the context of the military, which has been utilizing drone technology for years to aid in reconnaissance. Amazingly, militaries from around the world seem to have found the ideal reconnaissance tool in the Black Hornet, a nano drone. Let's take a look at the Black Hornet and see how it's developed over the years.
Photo Credit: Prox Dynamics
It all started with Petter Murren, a Norwegian inventor who holds the record for designing the world’s smallest remote-controlled helicopter. On December 1st, 2007, Murren founded Prox Dynamics, a company with the goal of developing, producing, and selling "the world’s smallest and most advanced unmanned aircraft systems". After years of constructing mini-copters, in 2008, Murren started focusing his efforts on developing the Black Hornet project, aiming to release the first iteration in 2009.
Prox Dynamics’s wanted the first Black Hornet to be a nano UAV that would weight 20 grams. Also called the PD-100, it was designed to have a video camera and to fit in a soldier’s pocket. It was the world's smallest remote-controlled reconnaissance copter in 2009. Weighing only half an ounce, it fit in the palm of someone's hand and its speed topped out at around 20 mph. Back then, it was sold in a pack of three copters which included a charger and a remote controller with a built-in LCD screen to display the copter's camera feed.
Beginning in 2011, Prox Dynamics had a contract with British forces. This deal, worth 20 million pounds, entitled the British to 160 units of the PD-100 Black Hornet. Troops utilize these units to scout for threats in Afghanistan. With their aid, the troops safely peer around corners and over walls.
Photo Credit: Prox Dynamics
In late 2014, Prox Dynamics launched the PD-100 T nano UAV at the AUSA Convention in Washington, D.C. This new model featured “a specifically designed and integrated thermal and daylight camera with infused imagery that is said to provide warfighters with a low or no light tactical ISR capability”. The drone’s camera now has Electro-optical sensors, which convert light into an electronic signal, and the thermal sensor is digitally enhanced courtesy of FLIR Systems Inc. This all translates into smoother night flying and surveillance capabilities.
In 2015, BusinessInsider reported that the United States was testing a number of Black Hornet drones which, at the time, were priced at $40,000 for large orders. This version was called the PD-100 Black Hornet 2, and it could fly for up to 25 minutes. It also had a range of two miles and featured both regular and thermal cameras. Later, military.com reported that the black hornet was being tested out by the marines.
Photo Credit: FLIR Systems, Inc.
On November 30th, 2016, FLIR Systems, Inc. announced that it acquired Prox Dynamics. Two years later, FLIR announced the Black Hornet 3. Fielded by over 30 nations over the past seven years, and now in use by both the U.S. and Australian Armies, the latest version of the Black Hornet brings several major improvements. FLIR lists the Black Hornet 3’s top five feature advancements as its ability to fly in GPS-denied areas, fly over 21 kmph, sharper image processing, modularity which allows batteries and sensors to be replaced quickly, and a monitor with redesigned software to improve the user’s experience.
This year, the Black Hornet drone continues to make headlines. After more than four years of experimentation and evaluation, the U.S. Army is beginning to send out FLIR Systems' tiny Black Hornet nano drones to operational units. On January 9, 2019, the Army revealed that the Soldier Sensors and Lasers (SSL) division of Rock Island Arsenal’s Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (RIA-JMTC) had delivered the first 60 complete Black Hornet systems to unspecified units. Then, on Jan. 24, 2019, FLIR Systems announced it had received a contract worth up to $39.6 million to deliver thousands more of the drones to the service, along with associated equipment, in the coming years.
I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron