There may come a day when some will go "droning," rising at dawn to perhaps catch a glimpse of a rare, bird-like aircraft flying through a city’s streets. You may have to travel the world to see them, chasing these inconspicuous mechanical rarities in rugged, potentially dangerous countries, like you would an authentic bird. Perhaps it’s not so hard to believe—people already go to great lengths to see and photograph trains and other technologies. And now, a company named AeroVironment has announced it’s manufactured a “Nano Hummingbird” for the Pentagon.
With two flapping wings, this aircraft actually looks and behaves (sort of) like a hummingbird. It can fly at up to 11 miles per hour in any direction, and then hover. It carries its own energy source (presumably a battery, but maybe they’ll spray on solar cells soon?) and a video camera payload. It has a wingspan of just 6.5 inches, and weighs less than an ounce—heavier than many hummingbirds, but smaller and lighter than the largest out there (though, 11 mph is far slower than a hummer at full speed). The “bird” is designed to dart in and out of doorways and windows in search of a particular nectar—intelligence—and to perch among green leaves, or on a rooftop antennae, for a surreptitious view. Who knows, maybe these hummers (these would be the world’s smallest, subtlest Humvees) will be equipped with speakers that emit territorial squeaks like the genuine thing. Currently, the Nano Hummingbird can stay aloft for just eight minutes before exhausted, but that might be more than enough time for a “pilot,” operating remotely via video stream, to complete a crucial mission.
“From the battle-proven Raven, Wasp and Puma small UAS to the tiny Nano Hummingbird to Global Observer, the largest, highest and longest flying UAS, AeroVironment continues to define the future of unmanned aircraft systems,” said Tom Herring, AV senior vice president, in their press release. The Raven looks like a conventional glider, not a bird, but, obviously, it’s increasingly jungly out there – maybe the Raven will look like one soon? In some places, an emerald gem-of-a-bird may be too much of a stray, in fact, so as the protype of this drone and its “removable body fairing” continues to develop, it may come to look more like a nano sparrow, an LBB that breezes by in a nondescript blur.
Over the course of the five-year project, the Pentagon has given about $4 million to AeroVironment to come up with the hummingbird — it’s an expensive species. But with luck, perhaps some version, or its progeny, will prove useful to other disciplines, like ecology. In addition to spy work, perhaps it could fly nearer to wildlife, say, capturing never before seen angles, behavior, and footage. In any case, birding and counterinsurgency are indeed closer than they seem.