Army Testing Pocket Drones

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U.S. Army researchers are developing a pocket-sized aerial surveillance drone for soldiers and small units operating on unfamiliar ground.

“The Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program, or CP-ISR, seeks to develop a mobile soldier sensor to increase the situational awareness of dismounted soldiers by providing real-time video surveillance of threat areas within their immediate operational environment,” officials at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center maintain.

Larger systems have been used to provide over-the-hill ISR capabilities on the battlefield for almost a decade, but none of those have delivered it directly to the squad level, where soldiers need the ability to see around the corner or into the next room during combat missions.

“The Cargo Pocket ISR is a true example of an applied systems approach for developing new soldier capabilities,” said Dr. Laurel Allender, acting NSRDEC technical director. “It provides an integrated capability for the soldier and small unit for increased situational awareness and understanding with negligible impact on soldier load and agility.”

NSRDEC engineers investigated existing commercial off-the-shelf technologies to identify a surrogate CP-ISR system.

Prox Dynamics’ PD-100 Black Hornet, a palm-sized miniature helicopter weighing only 16 grams, has the ability to fly up to 20 minutes while providing real-time video via a digital data link from one of the three embedded cameras and operates remotely with GPS navigation. Tiny, electric propellers and motors make the device virtually undetectable to subjects under surveillance.

The size, weight and image-gathering capabilities of the system are promising advancements that fulfill the burgeoning requirement for an organic, squad-level ISR capability, but more work still needs to be done, Army officials maintain.

Several efforts are underway to develop three different aspects of the technology to ensure it is ready for the soldier and small unit.

The first of these efforts is focused on a redesign of the digital data link to achieve compatibility with U.S. Army standards. The second focuses on developing and integrating advanced payloads for low-light imaging, allowing for indoor and night operations.

Lastly, researchers are continuing to develop and enhance guidance, navigation and control, or GNC, algorithms for the CP-ISR surrogate system. This will allow the airborne sensor to operate in confined and indoor spaces, such as when soldiers advance from room to room as they are clearing buildings.

In November 2014, NSRDEC will collaborate with the Maneuver Center of Excellence, the Army Research Laboratory and other organizations to support the Army Capabilities Integration Center’s Manned Unmanned Teaming (Ground) Limited Objective Experiment, or LOE, by demonstrating the current capabilities of mobile soldier sensors.

About the Author

Matt Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at Military.com. He can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.
  • hibeam

    Totally cool. Now we need a breakthrough in battery life. You could have five or six of these things following Mullah Omar around pecking at his one good eye.

    • Rat

      Not batteries but micro turbines… Pound for pound there is more energy in liquified dinosaur than in chemical batteries. But I digress, they will first need to figure out how to make a less stealthy version for export. Oh, and a STOVL version for the Marines.

      • SJE

        Electrical motors are small, robust, cheap and easy to control. The benefits of a turbine diminish when you get to something like this drone.

    • Musson

      How about some pocket sized Kamikaze drones. Maybe something that could carry a small grenade?

      • Nick

        And operate autonomously so when it kills civvies there’s no one to blame! Warfare is going to get even more great.

    • rtsy

      Why not change a soldiers body armor or weapon to have a dock for it to recharge? Seems like the power requirements are low enough that it wouldn’t add too much weight. It could augment or even replace a lot of the soldier cams found on helmets or rifles.

      • tiger

        The field radio seems like the obvious place to use. A slow solar charger for field use. The ability to see over a hill or through a window could be very handy.

        • rtsy

          And the drone could serve to relay signals, great idea.

  • Ranger Rick

    Interestingly, the picture is of a British Army soldier holding the Black Hornet. Each one is only four inches long, weighs l16 grams (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.

    The Black Hornet has been in use since 2012. In Afghanistan, it’s been used by British Army Brigade reconnaissance to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing. 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.

    I hope the Defense Dept. doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time and out-of-pocket expense developing something when the British are using something that could go in our soldier’s pockets now! But, perhaps I’m just a wishful thinker.

    • nick987654

      If it has a GPS receiver maybe it can be used to get targeting data for GPS weapons like the 120mm mortar GPS rounds.

    • G Sparks

      Coming from the DOD acquisition system, you can be assured we will spend lots of money and time reinventing something that has already been built and it will work worse than the original. We have lost our way and only the stupid and liars get rewarded in today’s govt.

  • GWTEX

    I like the idea.. this thing when it is ready to fly, will really be handy in the battle field.
    They would almost have to be a issue item right? you can take them home with you, snoop on the surrounding area, all night long..as well.

  • Shea

    More crap to carry, more unencrypted data feeds to be hacked by bad guys, more em transmissions to say “here I am, drop indirect on me”. We seriously need to have a “come to jesus” moment here. If I am in that close proximity with an opposing force that I can use this piece of crap…they know I’m here, I know they’re there. Level the building and move on.
    We are so lost in the woods when it comes to these drones and ‘bots. The four legged walker they just put on display???? I would rather have a real life mule…costs about a gazillion times less and doesn’t sound like a goddamn buzzsaw walking through the woods.

    • Bernard

      You can’t level the building on top of innocent civilians. When you are fighting an insurgency the risks of collateral damage is too high. That’s why you need things like this, to enable precise operations that minimize casualties.

    • McPosterdoor

      Until the donkey sh!ts itself and runs away under fire while ol’robot drops off yourgear and runs toward the enemy with some claymores. These gadgets will go away if they aren’t useful, look at FCS. You sound like you would have been against aircraft in WWI, an expensive boondoggle, who needs it right?

      • blight_asdf

        Perhaps tanks would have been a better example for WW1. Aircraft were useful for reconaissance, but not decisive at NML-busting like AFV’s.

    • Lurker

      You know, out of all the dumb comments I see on this website, I find, the whole “why not use an actual mule instead of a robot, it’s cheaper!” Line of thinking particularly irritating because it is so wrong on so many levels. Just off the top of my head:

      -A mule takes years to breed, grow, and train. Whereas with a robot, once the initial development is complete, you can pump out hundreds from a factory fully “trained” right out of the box.

      – Even with a fully trained animal, any animal expert will tell you that each individual is unique and unpredictable to a degree. You don’t know if they will freak out under fire and you need to have a person drag it to where you want it to go. A robot can be ordered to go exactly where you want it with a tap on a controller, and most certainly won’t react to gunfire or explosions.

      -A robot can be upgraded throughout its service life, and gain new abilities.

      -Endurance. A robot can likely carry a much heavier load for a much longer and sustained period of time. A robot could take a hit from small arms fire and probably keep going. If your most experienced mule breaks it’s leg or gets sick it’s pretty much done. A robot with a broken leg or extensive damage can be repaired and put back into action. I would imagine that the frequency of a robots maintaine and servicing is favorable compared to how often you’d have to feed, rest, and care for an animal. Also, if a mule runs out of “fuel”, it will die. An empty robot comes back to life as soon as it’s filled up again when fuel is available again.

      -A robot could contribute to a units siyptuational awareness with its sensors

      -Less risk of soldiers becoming emotionally attached to a living thing, can provide electricity generation, could eventually move much faster, etc.

      /end off topic rant. Sorry, had to get that off my chest

      • Lurker

        And one more thing: After a war ends, you can refurbish a fleet of robots to factory condition and put them in storage until they’re needed next time. A mule will age out over time and depending on the level of physical stress put on them, they may never recover entirely from severe injuries or fatigue.

        • Tiger

          Some folks are stuck in 1914 rather than 2014. Except for K-9’s, Animals need out of war.

      • iknow

        You’ve stated all the wrong reasons IMHO.

        There is only one reason against using mules or any other type of animals – it’s ruthless animal abuse / extreme animal cruelty. It’s not their fight. If human beings want to fight for whatever reason (most just out of their incorrigible stupidity), let human being go risk their lives.

        My solution: make the politicians and war profiteers go fight in the war, along with their family members and all living relatives on the family tree.

        • Jarhead

          My granddaddy was a horse marine, baddest motor scooter you’ve ever seen. It’s a hypothetical jackass, quit being so over sensitive. Any means to help our men is okay by me. Do yourself a favor and go hug a tree…

          • JCitizen

            Fricken A tweety Jar Head! Semper Fi!!!

    • Tom

      Awwww. But where’s the fun in that? ; )

  • Robbie

    If there’s any wind at all, those micro-drones are virtually uncontrollable……

    • Tiger

      Beats sending guys in balloons a Century ago.

      • SJE

        Especially ones filled with hydrogen

    • SJE

      True. But there is not much wind inside buildings, tunnels, in jungles, and close to the ground. These are exactly the sort of situations where the enemy is best able to hide, and so a micro drone can provide advanced visibility.

      • Golani51

        Incorrect. Rotary wing MAVs are quite stable, even at this scale, in considerable levels of turbulence. Check out project240dotnet on youtube for some great footage. They are inherently much more stable than fixed wing. I would have thought they would go with quadcopters though.

  • cueball95

    bout time… the English have had the exact same thing for a couple of years now, and it seems pretty effective.

  • Dickie Cockpit

    I’m picturing the big dog robot with a canary sized flight deck on it’s back.

  • www

    Look on Youtube for Black Hornet – it’s already in use by the British Army:
    It has GPS etc:
    http://youtu.be/4o7mRg74qcY
    http://youtu.be/LSQwb4p09wE

  • Wembley

    The PD-100 Black Hornet, pictured, was used in Afghanistan by the British Army from 2012.

    The US have had some since at least mid 2013, but it’s made by Prox Dynamics, a Norwegian company.

  • kevin richardson

    20 minutes…thay’s 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back. Not much time to mess around. Planned missions can be accomplished though.

  • Sgt. Badass

    I don’t need no high tech gear…I was just simply an instrument of war on the battlefield. In fact I refused my M4…I told my supply sergeant I only need my butter knife to get the job done…Hoooah!!!!!

  • atm

    So the Brits get a “Black Hornet”, and we get a “Pisser” (P-ISR).

  • rob

    just wait until civil enforcement obtains these. Think it’s not coming to a neighborhood near you? The other drones already have. No problem though because you follow the rules and don’t break the law right? Because “the law” just never changes, does it…..?

    Precedent.

  • hibeam

    In a shooting war I wonder how long big fat stationary high power radars are gonna last? Like about 2 seconds would be my guess.

  • Just Sayin’

    A $200,000 toy helicopter. Wow!

    • Joe_Sovereign

      You can’t let the damn ChiComs exploit the toy helicopter gap. We have to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND before it’s too late!!!!!!!!

      this message brought to you by your friendly neighborhood defense contractor.