The helicopter, named Mantis, is half a metre high and 1.5 metres long, scientists at the government-backed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), said on Wednesday.

 

Peter Corke of CSIRO Complex Systems Integration said the Mantis could be told where to go and what to do, and it could complete the task and return home, unassisted.

 

"This could lead to a quantum leap in the speed of air sea rescue efforts, covering many square kilometres faster by having many small aircraft searching at the same time," Corke said in a statement as the Mantis was unveiled on Wednesday.

 

"It could inspect and report on the condition of infrastructure such as powerlines, where currently manned, full-scale helicopters are used to look for faults," he added.

 

The Mantis took two years to develop and a key aim of the project was to minimise the cost of the complex electronics.

 

This was achieved using low-cost sensors to develop the inertial sensing system, which provides balance and indicates the orientation of the helicopter in the air.

 

The system was made from magnesium alloy to keep the weight down to 75 grams.

 

A CSIRO spokesman said the helicopter would cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, depending on its application.