Op-Ed: Army's tiny drone shows miniaturization of video surveillance

Posted Aug 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Brown
The U.S. Army's recent announcement that it's developing a pocket-sized drone for video intelligence shows the evolving hardware surrounding military and commercial surveillance.
This drone has a Go Pro camera mounted underneath and can go anywhere
This drone has a Go Pro camera mounted underneath and can go anywhere
Don McCullough from Santa Rosa, CA, USA (CC BY 2.0)
Last month, researchers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Massachusetts said the palm-sized aerial devices will help soldiers operate in challenging ground environments.
The British military is also experimenting with small intelligence-gathering gadgets for deployment on the field, such as Prox Dynamics' PD-100 Black Hornet, which is a palm-sized helicopter weighing only 16 grams.
The U.S. Army's Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program (CP-ISR) is expected "to provide squad-sized small units with organic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability," according to a press release.
The mobile sensors will improve situational awareness and provide real-time video surveillance of threat areas. Some experts predict these miniature devices will have advanced capabilities in the future, such as night vision, radar, and espionage.
"Miniature surveillance systems show how security forces are adapting to urban warfare by developing agile and mobile technologies," says a spokesperson for Q-See Surveillance Systems, a home and business security solutions firm based in Anaheim, Calif. "These devices need to adapt to users' requirements as well as provide video footage of nearby targets. In general, bulky hardware is a thing of the past."
The Army's pocket-sized drones provide infantry units an ability to see around the corner, helping soldiers to avoid traps and ambushes. They can also monitor threat areas inside buildings and housing structures. The small surveillance drones can also be deployed in thick canopy terrain or peer through extreme fog.
NSRDEC is also looking into off-the-shelf technologies to complement its CP-ISR system. These commercially available devices could enhance the Army's pocket-sized drones by reducing weight, decreasing costs, or adding capabilities. As many recall hearing in July, similar drones may bring your packages soon from the likes of Amazon, just to show a comparative analysis of how both military and commercial interests are involved with drones, albeit on different levels.
Prox Dynamics' PD-100 Black Hornet miniature helicopter can fly up to 20 minutes. It provides real-time video through a data link. Though it weighs only 16 grams, it has three embedded cameras and operates remotely with GPS navigation.