An amazing little personal drone in the form of a micro helicopter has been in use for a while now, strictly for military applications.
According to the video that we post below, the drone has already been used in Afghanistan to spot snipers.
The little military drone only weights 16 grams. Mission durations of 15/20 minutes are mentioned in the video, which is outstanding for such a small sized machine. The PD-100 can reach a speed of 22mph (35,4 Km/h).
The PD-100 carries not one, but three video cameras onboard.
The Black Hornet PD-100 was developed by Prox Dynamics, a firm founded by Petter Murren in 2007, whose mission is as follows (from the company website):
“Prox Dynamics’ mission is to develop, produce and sell the world’s smallest unmanned aircraft systems. We will create new innovative solutions based on modern micro electronics, new sensor technology, creative aerodynamics and efficient low cost production techniques. We will work closely with leading partners and customers to deliver cost optimal and functional products.”
From the information available on the Black Hornet PD-100, it looks like they fulfilled they mission quite nicely.
Petter Murren research started with extremely light weight, insect looking little flying machines such as this one:
Or these, that start to look like helicopters
He explains in the video that rather that starting from a bigger prototype and trying to make it smaller, they started small out of the box.
Very small helicopters or quadcopters are actually available on the consumer market at this time, with cameras and video transmission systems embedded such as the walkera FPV100
the Walkera Ladybird FPV edition
or the Hubsan H107D
So what sets the Black Hornet PD-100 apart from these consumer mini FPV devices?
Plenty of features actually, the main one being that the PD-100 is a full featured mini UAV, equipped with GPS and capable of autonomous flights. As the creator of the Black Hornet puts it, “it acts as a pair of flying binoculars”, and these binoculars have an at least 1Km range as shown by the test flight in the movie.
This kind of range, for both radio and video links specifications, is unthinkable for a mini Walkera or Hubsan without significant modifications. Still, given enough hacking a skilled enthusiast could likely reach this range, as far as the radio link and video link are concerned. With civilian, consumer technology this could probably require a significantly bulky setup for the ground station, that should include devices such as antenna trackers, signal boosters and such.
However on this small scale everything becomes very difficult, and integrating a GPS and the required software and control systems for autonomous flight, and reaching mission times of 15/20 minutes is an entirely different story and surely requires some serious financial investments for technological research, as the PD-100 obviously contains state of the art specialized components and software that are simply not available on the consumer market at this time.
Things might well change in the next years, and it is likely that in 5-10 years anyone with enough DIY skills will be able to build one from components freely available on the market.
As for the military applications of the PD-100, some of the possible uses are quite immediately obvious: it allows to looks ahead in an unknown terrain without being physically there.
Petter Murren explains:
“Instead of going in with a lot of force (…) you could stop a couple of hundred meters outside of the area, launch the PD-100, fly over and have a look.”
Indeed the PD-100 and it’s base station are pocket sized
The base station contains not one, but two self contained helicopters ready to fly
This design allows for an extremely quick deployment on the field, when required.
See the Black Hornet PD-100 in action in the following video, and listen to Petter Murren enthusiasm in telling how the PD-100 was brought to life, thanks to a dream he had, of making a little personal flying machine, since he was a child. It’s always fantastic to see someone making an impossible dream come true.