It may sound like a far-fetched plot element in a box-office-smashing war movie, but it’s not: This hummingbird-shaped robot, with a weight inferior to that of an AA battery and an incorporated surveillance camera, is actually DARPA’s latest plaything.
The Nano Hummingbird project was tackled around five years ago -on August 2006, to be more precise- by technology company AeroVironment, as the result of a contract signed with DARPA to design nano air vehicles. The final prototype, however, wasn’t revealed until February this year. The video below this paragraph broadly summarizes (making use, by the way, of a Terminator-like soundtrack that further emphasizes what I was saying at the start of this article) all the different development phases: From the initial sketches to the public unveiling of the robot at an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) conference, going through the difficulties the creators had to face and the various experimental flights they conducted.
If observed without extreme attention and at a little distance, it looks just like a real hummingbird and it’s not hard to imagine the uses of something like this within the context of war. Operated remotely, it can go inside buildings, perch itself on power lines without raising suspicion or provide a true bird’s-eye view of a certain area. If the concept itself and the images aren’t enough to depict how incredible this is, how about some specifications: It can stay in the air for up to 11 minutes (this may not seem like much, but take into consideration this timespan was only 20 seconds on the early stages of the project); it reaches speeds of 11 m/h, and it can perform a wide arrange of maneuvers, including moving clockwise and anti-clockwise and hovering in the air. I must say though, for a spy robot, it sure seems to make a bit too much noise.
Even though debates are naturally bound to arise regarding the moral applicability of an invention like this, there’s no arguing that as far as robotics engineering achievements go, it’s nothing short of fantastic. If you’re interested in other recent developments in this discipline, check out LOCH: A New Robot Is Born and iRobot Unveils AVA, the Personal Android.