The Libyan revolutionaries are more of a band of enthusiastic amateurs than experienced soldiers. But it turns out the rebels have the kind of weaponry usually possessed by advanced militaries: their very own drone.
Aeryon Labs, a Canadian defense firm, revealed on Tuesday that it had quietly provided the rebel forces with a teeny, tiny surveillance drone, called the Aeryon Scout. Small enough to fit into a backpack, the 3-pound, four-rotor robot gave Libyan forces eyes in the sky independent of the Predators, Fire Scout surveillance copters and manned spy planes that NATO flew overhead. Don’t worry, it’s not armed.
So far, the rebels have just one Scout among them, according to Marni McVicar, Aeryon’s vice president for business development. Working with a Canadian private security company called Zariba, Aeryon delivered the Scout “several weeks” ago to rebels in the Western port city of Misurata who used it, according to McVicar, to hasten their surprisingly rapid march to Tripoli.
The rebels needed barely a day of training to use a technology that many national armies would love to acquire. “We like to joke that it’s designed for people who are not that bright, have fat fingers and break things,” McVicar told Danger Room in a phone interview.
Listening to McVicar’s description, the Aeryon Scout sounds user-friendly enough to be operated by the car dealers, medical students and teachers who formed the impromptu Libyan rebel army in the west. Unlike many minidrones, the Scout isn’t controlled by a joystick. It’s run by a touchscreen tablet powered by Windows XP. The interface divides the screen among imagery (still or video) that the drone collects and displays in real time, a control dashboard and a programmable map of the area to fly over.
“You simply press on the screen and that’s where the vehicle goes,” McVicar said. “Press where you want the camera to focus on, and you’re done.”
It also gives the rebels another advantage that lots of armies desire: night vision. A thermal-imagery camera aboard the Scout provides an alternative to night-vision goggles, and from arguably a better vantage point. In the video above, released by Aeryon on Tuesday, nighttime images of Libyan artillery positions come into view from the Scout.
McVicar wouldn’t say how much the Libyan rebels paid for the drone. But she noted when asked that the drone retails for $100,000.
How the rebels even got the drone is fascinating as well…
Libyan Rebels Are Flying Their Own Minidrone