Barry Eitel

If you ever wanted proof that making stuff smaller automatically makes it cuter, look at the Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle.

Drones, which have received gallons of ink and hours of news airtime in the past few months, are decidedly not cute. They are high-power robotic surveillance and killing machines that can be pretty scary, especially when they are accidently targeting civilians in foreign countries and spying on citizens at home.

The Black Hornet carries no bomb payload—if it did, it would probably be no more than a firecracker.

Instead, the tiny drone uses a little camera to take full-motion live video and still images.

Shaped like an itty-bitty helicopter, the Black Hornet is a miniscule four inches by one inch and weighs as little as 16 grams, tiny enough to fit in the palm of a soldier’s hand and smaller than many model planes. It serves a critical function, however, by providing troops with much needed eyes-in-the-sky.

British soldiers are the first to use the Black Hornet, developed by Prox Dynamics AS in Norway, in the field. They fly the little drones over walls or past corners to identify possible dangers or obstacles. The video and images are fed directly into a handheld console controlled by the troops.

“Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the lightweight nature of it,” according to Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force stationed in Afghanistan, and one of the first to use the drone. “We use it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground.”

Don’t be fooled by the toy-like elements of the Black Hornet—this is a sturdy, military-grade piece of equipment. The drone is built to withstand high winds and the harsh environments of Afghanistan.

“Black Hornet gives our troops the benefits of surveillance in the palm of their hands. It is extremely light and portable whilst out on patrol,” claims Philip Dunne, the British Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology.

“Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are a key component in our 10-year equipment plan and now that we have balanced the Defence Budget we are able to confidently invest in these kinds of cutting-edge technologies,” he adds.

The British military is laying down £20 million for 160 of the mini drones.