Friday Gadget: The Hummingbird Robot

AeroVironment has been designing and building small, portable, reliable, and rugged unmanned aerial platforms designed for front-line day/night reconnaissance and surveillance.   One of the projects they are working on now is  a tiny drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird, flapping its little robotic wings to stay in the air. 

Check out the video here at YouTube (2:18 minute video…hummingbird technology displayed 50 seconds into video)

Based on what I’ve read, apparently this first version of the ‘robot’ has only stayed aloft for 20 seconds at a time so far.  But that short flight was enough to show the potential of a whole new class of miniature spies, inspired by nature.  The news is that Darpa just handed AeroVironment, more money to research and develop a second version of this Hummingbird.  

The goals of Darpa’s NAV program ….

“The NAV program will push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability for very small, flapping wing air vehicle systems. The goals of the NAV program — namely to develop an approximately 10 gram aircraft that can hover for extended periods, can fly at forward speeds up to 10 meters per second, can withstand 2.5 meter per second wind gusts, can operate inside buildings, and have up to a kilometer command and control range — will stretch our understanding of flight at these small sizes and require novel technology development.” – Dr. Todd Hylton, DARPA program manager as quoted in AviationWeek

If you sit back and imagine where this technology is ultimately going, it’s fair to realize that we will end up with nano-sized hummingbirds loaded with all types of sensors and deployed all over the place for applications ranging from security surveillance to birds-eye view video coverage of sporting events.  Reminds me of the nano-bots deployed in Neal Stephenson's 1995 book, The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer