“A Game-Changing And Lifesaving Capability” – Robots That Deploy Other Robots 

FLIR Systems Inc., based in Wilsonville, Oregon, has developed a self-contained housing and launch unit for the world’s smallest combat-proven nano-unmanned aerial system. The launcher can mount to any vehicle, including uncrewed ground vehicles. 

FLIR Black Hornet 3 

The Black Hornet Vehicle Reconnaissance System (VRS) debuted on Oct. 09 at the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) in Washington, D.C. The new launcher features the Black Hornet 3 nano-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for the military, government agencies, and first responder vehicle-mounted operations. 

FLIR Black Hornet 3 debuting at AUSA in Washington, D.C.

The launch unit includes slots for four Black Hornet 3 drones, each the size of a hummingbird, plus an electrical charging station within. With the flip of a switch, the launcher opens, a drone pops out and takes flight. 

“The Black Hornet combines with the VRS to create a real-time situational awareness (RSTA) airborne system for warfighters protected inside a vehicle. The Black Hornet VRS includes launch unit that holds multiple Black Hornet UAVs and mounts to the exterior of any military vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, and light utility vehicles. Operators inside a vehicle can use an integrated battle management system or only a display to launch and fly the Black Hornet on its mission. The complete system is easily integrated with modern battlefield management systems and is vehicle platform dependent,” said FLIR press release.  

According to the Black Hornet 3’s customer brochure, the GPS-guided drone has roughly 25-minutes of flight time depending on weather conditions, and has a range of over 1 mile, “it can fly from outdoors into buildings or caves, and help asses a situation before putting personnel in harm’s way.” 

Mount the Black Hornet VRS on top of a robotic reconnaissance vehicle or a remote controlled-tank, and the military-industrial complex has a wartime robot deploying small unmanned scouts to extend its field of view. “A game-changing and lifesaving capability,” according to FLIR. 

Black Hornet VRS mounted on a robot 
Black Hornet 3 flying over robot tank 
Black Hornet 3 flying over robot tank 

Stuard Russell, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, Berkley, spoke with Motherboard about robots deploying robots, especially the FLIR VRS system. 

Russell gives an ominous warning that the Black Hornet 3 combined with VRS is like something out of the Terminator. If terrorists were able to weaponize these miniature drones, it would be a perfect tool for a mass casualty event, he said. “I estimate, for example, that roughly one million lethal weapons can be carried in a single container truck or cargo aircraft, perhaps with only two or three human operators rather than two or three million, Russell wrote by email to Motherboard.

“Such weapons would be able to hunt for and eliminate humans in towns and cities, even inside buildings. They would be cheap, effective, unattributable, and easily proliferated once the major powers initiate mass production and the weapons become available on the international arms market,” Russell warned.  

Drones deploying other drones — what could possibly go wrong? Not too long ago, the FBI director delivered a written testimony to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Commitee in which he warned about the increasing threat from weaponized drones by Al-Qaeda, ISIS, MS-13, and Mexican drug cartels. 

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