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(Reuters) - Drone-maker AeroVironment Inc unveiled a small four-rotor surveillance helicopter on Tuesday that can be carried in a small pouch and launched from the palm of a hand.
The smaller size and simplicity of operation means it can used by ordinary soldiers, offering squads and other small military units the kind of surveillance capacity previously reserved for larger military units, where drones are operated by specialists.
AeroVironment said it delivered 20 of the 5-ounce (140-gram) Snipe unmanned aircraft to its first U.S. government client in April. The company declined to identify the government agency that purchased the drones, but Aviation Week reported last year that AeroVironment was developing prototypes for the U.S. Army.
AeroVironment said the drone benefited from advances in technology achieved in the development of its Nano Hummingbird drone for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been responsible for many technological and scientific breakthroughs used by the military.
Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment's vice president in charge of unmanned aircraft systems, said in a statement the Snipe copter drone is "designed to be worn by its operator so it can be deployed in less than a minute."
The aircraft, which is intended intelligence and reconnaissance missions, can relay high-resolution images and record video both day and night. It can fly at speeds of 20 mph (35 kph), has a range of more than a kilometer (half-mile), and can fly for about 15 minutes on batteries, the statement said.
AeroVironment's hand-launched Raven unmanned aircraft, which weighs 4.2 pounds (2 kg) and has a wingspan of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters), is one of the most widely used military surveillance drones, with more than 19,000 built.
Shares of AeroVironment dropped 0.2 percent to $29.13 within its 52-week range of $22.16 to $32.44.
Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe