Hummingbird Reconnaissance Drone Flies

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A Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) created by AeroVironment, designed to look and fly like a hummingbird, has achieved remote-controlled hover and flight while carrying a camera that transmits real-time video to its control unit. When we last saw the vehicle in video, its control looked questionable. Now, the ornithopter is shown in controlled hover and maneuvers, flying through a doorway and into a building, while sending live video back to its operator (Click for video). Two years ago, the first version could fly for 20 seconds. Now, it can fly up to 11 miles per hour and has a duration of about eight minutes. The project is the result of a DARPA-funded effort by AeroVironment for a potential stealthy reconnaissance vehicle for use in urban environments. Its success "paves the way for a new generation of aircraft with the agility and appearance of small birds," according to DARPA NAV project manager Dr. Todd Hylton.

The prototype is smaller and lighter than the largest hummingbirds, but larger and heavier than most. It has a wingspan of 16 cm and carries 19 grams (less than a double-A battery) worth of structure, systems, batteries, motors and communications equipment. The next steps in the project's development would be to further refine the employed technology. So far, the Pentagon has awarded roughly $4 million to the project. The technology could be used in the future for detailed reconnaissance missions, according to AeroVironment's Matt Keennon, who expects the vehicle's form, duration and performance would improve with further development. Keennon notes that the aircraft's form could provide stealth characteristics if subjects were unable to recognize it as man-made. But, he says, in that case, "a sparrow seems to be better."