The Black Hornet Drone; revolutionising modern surveillance

If you are curious about the capabilities of The Black Hornet Drone and how it is revolutionizing modern surveillance (and are a bit worried) then keep reading.

The Black Hornet Drone is here. It packs a surveillance punch in its small size and capability to gain situational awareness while keeping the operator away from the hot spot. This review looks at how the world is using it now … and what need to be careful of in the future.

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Black hornet drone close up
With its tiny size and massive capabilities the Black hornet drone is shaking up the landscape (source Teledyne FLIR)

Introduction

The Teledyne Flir Black Hornet PRS Drone, beginning concept life from Prox Dynamics AS from Norway is a sophisticated, ‘punching above its weight’ tool changing the game for the world of surveillance and reconnaissance. The technology that is contained within the hand-sized miniature UAV has evolved ever since pilotless hot air balloons were used in war tactics in the 1850s.

Early drone thinking was to be able to drop bombs over targets without risking a pilot, but this has flipped into recognizing the power of surveillance for overwatch and situational awareness without the risk.

The true power of this surveillance weaponry is yet to realized, but in doing a deep dive into its capability, my hope is that the decisions made on a target that you are distanced from remain somewhat human and humane. Read on and see what you think.

What is a Black Hornet Drone?

The Black Hornet Drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle filled with the latest technology, a journey of knowledge creating a tiny but powerful tool of many uses. It is the size of a finger, small enough to be mounted onto a utility belt, giving it unlimited potential in military and civilian uses, hopefully for the greater good.

The state-of-the-art technology allows it to have small components with its battery tiny but able to provide around 30 minutes of flight time. The Black Hornet Drone’s early predecessor was the Black Hornet Nano created by Prox Dynamics AS from Norway.

The company was purchased by Teledyne FLIR in 2016 reinventing it as the Black Hornet 4.

black hornet drone in a soldiers hand
With its tiny size the Black hornet drone have become a favourite for military use (source Teledyne FLIR)

What can a Black Hornet drone do?

There is a term ‘dismounted soldier’ which is used when referring to how soldiers are using the technology. It is creating a soldier of the future that is equipped with tools that increase their effectiveness via the use of information enhancing tools such as the Black Hornet Drone.

The Black Hornet Drone core use is to enhance situational awareness, like a visual mental model for a soldier or military team to make decisions based on better facts using multiple high-tech cameras.

A user can learn how to operate the Black Hornet in as little as 20 minutes and can be launched autonomously (with no pilot in it) from a vehicle providing visual oversight from the tiny camera on board. A key feature of the Black Hornet Drone is its ability to ‘punch above its weight’ and handle many gusty and turbulent conditions.

What is it used for?

The full extent of uses for the Black Hornet Drone are unpredictably not fully understood but for now, as a tool for military use, it allows soldiers to be away from the hot spot of the action to make decisions.

Not only does this protect a soldier, it also has a consequential effect of decision-making under less duress. The Black Hornet Drone provides the oversight picture and the distance away allows tactics to be created in relative calm.

Who uses the Black Hornet Drone?

The stand-out use and design mission of the Black Hornet Drone is surveillance. This being the case it goes to reason that the military and security forces have many frontline direct uses for it. With its light weight, soldiers can carry it into a mission and deploy exactly when and where they need it.

Us military aid recently included The Black Hornet Drone to Ukraine and has been reported to be very effective in providing surveillance for targeted attacks.

“Compared to small quad-rotor drones, the single rotor Black Hornet 4 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has an extremely low visual and audible signature, enabling it to identify threats day or night without being detected.”

Teledyne FLIR

The 19 countries of NATO are reported to be the main users however a tool of this nature lends itself to both sides of a battle seeking it. Some of the countries reported to use the Black Hornet Drone are the United States, United Kingdom, India, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Algeria, Indonesia, Norway, France, Spain, Turkey, and the Ukraine.

Although the military use is clear, the capabilities of this drone mean that there is civilian use in sanctioned surveillance in police and other rescue stakeholders. With the relatively low cost compared to a larger drone, unsanctioned use is unfortunately occurring but not for discussion in this forum.

On a lighter note, uses such as wildlife surveillance and monitoring and search and rescue are more of a feel-good story.

Black hornet drone in flight next to soldier
Military and security forces have been the main users of the Black Hornet drones (source Teledyne FLIR)

Who manufactures the Black Hornet Drone?

In 2016, Teledyne Flir purchased Prox Dynamics AS the original creator of the Black Hornet Nano drone. In surveillance circles, FLIR stands for ‘Forward Looking InfraRed’ which is a likely choice with the core feature of the Black Hornet Drone being its small cameras for viewing.

Black Hornet Drone specs:

  • Small size – Approx. 4 inches long and 1 inch blade diameter
  • Weight – The total weight with the screen and controls is 1.3 kg. The drone itself around 30-50 grams depending on model. Highly functional for on person carriage
  • Cameras – 12-megapixel cameras with low light day and night vision capability in color
  • Enhanced flight performance – terrain detection and avoidance in newer models
  • Quick launch – able to be airborne within 20 seconds and can operate in GPS-compromised environments
  • Endurance – up to 30 minutes line of sight effective up to 2000 meters depending on terrain
  • Operational conditions – all weather conditions with wind up to 25 knots
  • Low environmental stealth footprint – Being small and quiet, disturbance of the air is low
  • Realtime streaming – operator receives data in live video and still images
  • Dual operation – direct operation by operator or able to engage autopilot and fly predetermined GPS route
Black hornet drone in carry case
The drone comes in a compact carry case (source Teledyne FLIR)

How much does a Black Hornet drone cost?

The real cost of a Black Hornet Drone will only be known by the inner circle of those involved, however there are clues as to the number of units sold and the reported income of Teledyne Flir for the Black Hornet Drone project. The cost for publicly available information is around USD$200,000 per unit, making them a very cost effective tool for dismounted soldiers (removed from the center of a mission target).

Can you buy a Black Hornet Drone?

When researching whether I can purchase a Black Hornet Drone and to even get more information, I was confronted by a warning regarding International Arms regulations. This tells me that you would need to be approved to purchase.

How loud is a Black Hornet drone?

The Black Hornet Drone has a low ‘noise signature’ which is due to its small size and low disturbance of the air it is reported to be undetectable as close as 10 feet from a person.

What makes the black hornet drone stand out amongst similar drones on the market?

The Black Hornet Drone’s lightweight, easy functionality, low noise signature and HD video and still shot capability make it stand out. By reducing exposure of soldiers to danger, more sound decisions on targets can be made. Its small size allows ‘right here, right now’ use in real time through small cavities. Military use is the clear ideal use however any surveillance operation including rescue in hard-to-reach places is a high second.

Black hornet drone in flight in the forest
With its quietness and small size the black hornet is ideal for surveillance (source Teledyne FLIR)

Conclusion

The futureproofing of the Black Hornet Drone is largely in place, but I also acknowledge that ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ and that means even with existing technology wider uses will be discovered.

My expectations (and fears) are uses in crowd control, weather applications and off-site ‘gamer style’ decision-making. If used with emotional intelligence to balance the visual intelligence, perhaps this will go well. This drone world of technology has scope to work positively in search and rescue if range can go beyond line of sight, the whole world is accessible.

There are new upgrades always in play and if you stop innovating, then you are already behind. I hope we can all stay vigilant as technology develops and keep asking ourselves, just because we can do something … should we? Let’s avoid living in a Terminator movie!

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