US New Palm-sized Satellite Drones to Open Up “Aerial View” for Soldiers


The Sunday Times reported on July 7 that the “Black Bumblebee” drone looks like a child’s toy helicopter, but this miniature drone is changing the nature of war. 

According to the report, the US army has recently deployed these pencil-long drones for the very first time, and they will be sent to Afghanistan with some members of the 82nd Airborne Division. The French Army are using the same type of drones in Mali. The British Army used its earlier type in Afghanistan in 2011, and recently purchased 30 more newest ones, with a total cost of nearly £1.4 million. The new type is more advanced with several features including night vision, GPS, shooting high-resolution videos and automated flight.

In 2016, the Norwegian start-up Prox Dynamics, which manufactured the drones, was bought by American company FLIR.

The British media pointed out that the “Black Bumblebee” is 16.8 cm in length but only 32 g in weight. As it is very quiet, it can carry out real-time surveillance task without being noticed. This electric dual-rotor drone has an endurance capacity of 25 minutes, and can maintain contact with operators in 1.2 miles away (about 2 kilometers). It is able to fly at 13 miles per hour (about 21 km/h) in a temperature as high as 43 degree celsius. At night, with its thermal imaging camera, it can send real-time videos and high-resolution images back to operators.

Ole Aguirre from FLIR said that the drones are very useful in crowded cities, as they can fly along the streets and over the roofs, looking for snipers or other threats. They can also fly into dark buildings, caves and even pipes. He said, “When you go on patrol in a certain region on foot or by car, these drones can take the lead.”

According to the report, this type of drones is operated by a person on a touch screen. They can fly in line with projected routes, or return as required in accordance with programming.

With its camera and AI, the “Black Bumblebee” will get to know its surrounding and form a distribution map for the obstacles it should avoid during its flight. As control signals might be blocked indoors, the map will help it locate its relative position.

Aguirre said, “You don’t have to wait for other larger equipment, or ask the head office to send larger drones to carry out surveillance tasks. The team leader can send this system to any place where he wants to observe everything from space. It only takes 20 seconds to set it off. Furthermore, it can fly from the palm of your hand.”