03/12/2012 05:44 GMT | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Neuron, Europe's First Stealth Drone 'Killer Robot', Makes Test Flight

The first stealth drone developed in Europe has made its first flight from a test base in France.

The terrifyingly-named "nEUROn" Drone has been built through a collaboration between France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden and Switzerland.

It has taken five years of development and testing before the first flight was able to take off from Dassault Aviation company's base in Istres, France.

The large craft is 10 meters long, has a wingspan of about 12.5 meters and weighs five tons without weapons. It is powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca "Adour" engine, and is intended to carry precision missiles controlled by a human operator.

It is similar in appearance to the American X-47B, but is not intended to be produced in bulk. Instead it is a demonstration of technology which will make further development easier - and could lead to a full-scale rollout of a similar craft at a later date.

Those planes based on the Neuron tech will be at least a generation ahead of the Predator drones currently used by the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Further tests will follow in Sweden and Italy focused on the weapons systems and other capabilities of the craft.

However, the future of drones might not be just determined by state-of-the-art technology. China recently unveiled its own fleet of drones, which are not radically different from those in use apart from the fact they are 30 times cheaper to make.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have published reports this autumn warning that Killer Robots, which are operated automatically, should be pre-emptively banned before they are used on the battlefields of the future.

And given that a Cambridge University group, including former Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, is currently examining the genuine chances of a deadly robotic uprising destroying human civilisation, we might want to listen to them.


Above: The Neuron Drone