Ex-U.S. Marine Ernest Langdon pulls a pin and throws a small black object onto the ground. But it doesn’t explode. Instead, the robot rights itself and swiftly scuttles away, feeding infrared video back to a small radio control screen.
Unmanned drones have become an almost ubiquitous presence on the battlefield for U.S. and other high-tech forces. But the market for remote controlled vehicles is evolving from the sometimes multi-tonne craft that patrol the skies over Afghanistan or Yemen, carrying out reconnaissance and targeted strikes, to tiny robots that police and even film companies can use.
he top end of the market continues to be dominated by U.S. companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, formerly a division of General Dynamics and creator of the Predator and Reaper drones. Other major defense firms such as BAE Systems are pushing forward with next-generation drones with stealth and other features.
Smaller companies are increasingly redefining the industry, however. Drones on display at this week’s DSEI defense fair at London’s Excel exhibition center include undersea robots that can act as mini submarines or simply drive along the surface of the seabed to clear mines or conduct reconnaissance.