They've become the eyes and ears of the military.
Small, unmanned aircraft systems designed and built by AeroVironment Inc. at a Simi Valley plant are being used extensively by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They can hover, swoop and fly at altitudes high enough to operate virtually undetected while providing live streaming video of enemy operations.
And pending clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, AV's drones are poised for use in a variety of civilian applications, including law enforcement, monitoring pipeline and utility assets and search-and-rescue operations.
But there's just one glitch - they can be hijacked. Or at least Professor Todd Humphreys suspects they can. And if that happens, these nimble aircraft could become weapons for terrorists.
AV officials, however, say their technology includes safeguards that would make that nearly impossible to do.
Humphreys and his team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin's Radionavigation Laboratory completed an experiment on June 25 showing that they have found a way to hack into the GPS systems of unmanned drones.
The team field tested the Hornet Mini, a small, remote-controlled helicopter made by Adaptive Flight.
The practice, known as "spoofing," creates false GPS signals that trick the aircraft's GPS receiver into thinking nothing is amiss - even as it steers a new navigational course determined by the outside hacker.outside hacker.