Something You Should See
In trying to make sure we provide you with only the most interesting pertinent information, we do have to triage through a lot of junk. And, every now and then, we apparently make the mistake of not showing you or telling you about something you may have wanted to see. This might have just happened ... .
Last week, I became aware of a video that shows a very small (roughly fist-sized) UAV that flies like a hummingbird. It has flapping wings and, according to its developer, might ultimately serve as a remote controlled indoor surveillance platform (possibly for our troops). One problem I had right away was that the company does not allow any alteration of their videos -- we can't add value through narration, or perform video edits that could highlight certain features or qualities of the vehicle. Also, the video was shot mostly in slow motion and had frequent edits that only showed the vehicle flying under control for seconds at a time ... mostly while descending. In short, when I watched the video, it didn't suggest to me that the thing actually worked all that well. Actually, to me, it appeared to demonstrate otherwise.
I'll admit that before watching the video it was my suspicion that the concept itself didn't make much sense ... and watching the video didn't help reverse that. I can think of things that are less efficient, but it's not easy. Actually, what first comes to mind are old jittery black and white movies of guys standing on walls strapped to home-made wings and jumping off onto their faces. That, and multi-winged "flying machines" that flapped vigorously until some structural member collapsed and a bunch of men in bowler hats ran over to extract the craft's hapless inventor.
The relationship between history and technology may be divergent, but mechanically changing direction still takes more energy and causes more wear than continuous motion, doesn't it? Controlling such a thing also strikes me as much more complicated, and therefore more expensive, and weighty, than say working with counter-rotating propellers. It all seems rather silly to me.
Lastly, and here's where I admittedly went completely wrong, I think I may have been offended that I was paying for the development of this thing with my tax dollars. The vehicle has earned funding from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. And the only reason it crossed my desk was because AeroVironment, which actually makes a whole host of products that do make very good sense to me, had earned (from DARPA) a contract extension to further develop the device. According to Dr. Todd Hylton of DARPA, the program will "push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability for very small, flapping wing air vehicle systems." According to AeroVironment the vehicle's longest flight (so far) lasted 20 seconds. ... And, yes, that's better than the Wright brothers did for a while. And, yes, I realize now that all of this makes this thing something you probably want to see.