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Military nano drones help soldiers map out the battlefield ahead

Army Be the Best - AWE20 featuring Nano Bug UAV

When you think of military drones, chances are that you picture enormous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), capable of carrying ridiculously large payloads or, perhaps, remote-controlled weapons like the Predator drone. The drone developed by U.K.-based drone company UAVTEK, in collaboration with defense company BAE Systems, is considerably smaller than that: Just 196 grams, in fact (less than 7 ounces).

Nonetheless, the Bug nano drone is being explored as a possible tool by the British Army, due to its potential for being used as a valuable tool in the arsenal of individual soldiers, who could easily transport and deploy the units on their own. It can be used to spy on targets up to 2 kilometers  (1.24 miles)away.

“The Bug provides instant ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) to the soldier in all weather conditions, without having to carry heavy equipment,” Howard Humphries, CEO of UAVTEK, told Digital Trends.

What to expect from the Bug

According to Humphries, the key weakness in the current nano drones category is the ability to fly in windy conditions. “The UAVTEK Bug has been independently tested by the Navy in gusts of 23 meters-per-second or 45 knots,” he said. “The Bug has proven itself repeatedly in U.K. storms, and UAVTEK had the only drones able to fly at the [recent] Army Warfighting Experiment 2020 on Salisbury Plain [in the U.K.] due to our extreme wind capability.”

Aside from its extreme weather capabilities, the drone also boasts an impressive flight time of up to 40 minutes in its sub-200 gram configuration, and more than an hour when fitted with a larger battery. It can achieve speeds of 80 kilometers per hour.

Bug drone

“The Bug can do things other drones cannot, and dissemination of data is key to the UAVTEK flight system,” Humphries said. “This allows the pilot and those in the vicinity to be able to receive the Bug’s video and telemetry, which is encrypted. We also demonstrated that, by plugging in a military tactical radio, the data can then be disseminated across a network.”

No data is physically stored on the Bug, which means that nothing (other than the drone itself) is lost in the event that it falls into enemy hands.

Plans for the future

UAVTEK is currently hard at work on the development of the MK3 Bug, set to make its debut in the second quarter of 2021. Humphries was not able to provide any images at this point but described it as a “game-changer” for the nano drone market. This is due to its modular design, which allows extra payloads to be attached, such as a high-resolution thermal camera, 3D mapping tech, gas-sensing, liquid deployment, and more.

“This means nano drones will no longer be reconnaissance only, they will become a useful multi-function drone tool,” he said.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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