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Pocket-sized drones deployed to Afghanistan

Four-inch long, helicopter-shaped drones designed to provide frontline reconnaissance have been deployed to Afghanistan with British soldiers, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry reported Monday.

While they look like toys, the Norwegian-designed Black Hornet Nano drones carry pan-and-tilt cameras that stream images to soldiers’ tablet computers.

“We use it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset,” Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan said in a news release.

Military drones are nothing new, but these represent a new class of mini-robots on the front lines. Each weighs as little as 16 grams.

Image of a Black Hornet, Nano
A Black Hornet, Nano UAV provides aerial surveillance during Operation QALB in Afghanistan.Sgt Rupert Frere RLC / Sgt Rupert Frere RLC

The drone is controlled with a handheld, thumb-operated joystick. They can also fly pre-programmed search patterns. The range is 1,000 meters (about six-tenths of a mile), they can fly for 25 minutes, and go from pocket to the airborne in less than 60 seconds, IEEE, an engineering association, noted.

Black Hornets have been in use in Afghanistan since 2012, according to BBC News. They were built by Prox Dynamics as part of a $30 million contract with military supplier Marlborough Communications.

While the current price tag will keep these out of the general public's hands, a future where tiny, high- tech drones make helicopter parenting easy for the masses no longer seems too distant.

– via IEEE

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.