Q&A: FLIR Acquires World’s Lightest UAS Developer Prox Dynamics

Earlier today, FLIR announced the acquisition of Prox Dynamics, the leading developer and manufacturer of nano-class unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for military and para-military surveillance and reconnaissance.

To provide more insight on the acquisition, we asked FLIR’s Surveillance Group Vice President and General Manager, Kevin Tucker, who will be responsible for this new team, to provide some additional input on the importance of this new capability to FLIR.

Q: Can you tell us about Prox Dynamics?

A: Prox Dynamics is a small, incredibly innovative company that was founded in 2007 by pioneers of toy helicopters and small flying devices. Based in Oslo, the company develops, manufactures, and distributes aerial sensors that are the smallest, lightest, and most covert surveillance systems for military and para-military use in the world. They are widely known for their groundbreaking, ultralight Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) called the Black Hornet.

Q: Describe the Prox Dynamics Black Hornet?

A: The Black Hornet is revolutionary in many ways. To start, it is the world’s smallest and lightest unmanned aerial system at less than ounce – that’s about the weight of three pieces of paper. It uses a single main rotor, versus the more common quad-copter design. About the length of a pencil, it can fly up to 25 minutes in close quarters quietly, at up to 25 MPH for distances up to a mile. The Black Hornet is virtually undetectable from 15 feet away.

Q: How did you learn of Prox Dynamics?

A: We are well aware of the innovative team at Prox Dynamics as they were our first customer to integrate FLIR’s smallest thermal camera, Lepton, in its products. All generations of the Black Hornet offer our Lepton thermal product to integrate thermal imaging with electro-optical sensors, to provide soldiers with the ability to see in complete darkness or through smoke or obscurants. This was a critical need by many customers and the Prox Dynamics and FLIR teams have already formed an extremely effective working relationship.

Q: Is the Black Hornet a drone?

A: Calling the Black Hornet a drone doesn’t do it justice. The Black Hornet is a flying sensor, rather than a drone, as it is a highly optimized airborne vehicle that is designed to carry specific electro-optical sensors. The Black Hornet system typically includes two micro-UAV’s, a custom controller and a video monitor. The Black Hornet airframe differs radically from quad-rotor-based technologies that are far less stealthy and not suitable for covert operations. It is a true personal sensor system, as the complete kit is easy for one person to carry and have immediately accessible on the outside of their gear. The Black Hornet aerial sensor utilizes FLIR’s Lepton micro thermal camera, visible spectrum cameras, advanced mechanical rotor technology, and proprietary software for flight control, stabilization, and communications to form a highly advanced and life-saving surveillance solution.

Q: Can you provide a common military scenario where the Black Hornet could be useful?

A: Imagine a scenario where there is a small patrol squad on the outskirts of a village in a dangerous part of the world. Previously, ground troops might have reconnaissance and surveillance support provided overhead by a drone. Worse, it’s possible that the intel is dangerously outdated, even just a few hours after it was taken, and worse yet, they might not have any surveillance available at all.

Rather than entering the village with little information, a solider equipped with a hand-carriable Black Hornet can deploy it from a safe distance, fly it over buildings and obstacles using the visible and/or thermal sensors They can fly it without revealing their location, gather critical real-time video intelligence, and then with significantly better situational awareness finalize their plan to enter the area. The Black Hornet is an essential tool of the modern battlefield and other security situations, and customers using them today understand the value they bring to individual personnel and small teams.

Q: Who uses the Black Hornet today?

A: The Black Hornet PRS system has been in use by more than a dozen international military organizations including the US Army, US Marines and the UK Ministry of Defence. These are organizations FLIR has worked with for many years with our own surveillance products. Early adopters of this new capability have been Special Operations Forces, and the requirements are now expanding to conventional forces and border security.

Q: FLIR also sells a line of thermal cameras for commercial and consumer drones. Do you plan to make the Black Hornet available to consumers?

A: The Black Hornet is designed for military and para-military use and we will focus product development on the unique requirements of the defense and military security markets. We will continue to offer dedicated thermal cameras for consumer and commercial drones, including our own Vue series of thermal cameras and the DJI Zenmuse XT offered through our collaboration with DJI.

Q: Why is Prox Dynamics strategically important to FLIR?

A: FLIR’s mission is the be the World’s Sixth Sense and we are proud of our heritage of making products that protect lives and the environment. We believe the acquisition of Prox Dynamics aligns perfectly with our mission and allows FLIR to offer critical new capabilities to our customers. Prox Dynamics also aligns perfectly with FLIR’s efforts to build products that save lives, as troops can deploy them rapidly in complex and time critical situations to provide aerial surveillance of remote locations. With FLIR’s extensive experience in the defense sector, together we will expand Prox Dynamics’ global reach and accelerate their growth potential.

For more information about the acquisition, see FLIR’s Press Release.