A pocket-size drone dubbed the Nano Hummingbird for the way it flaps its tiny robotic wings has been developed for the Pentagon by a Monrovia, Calif., company as a mini-spy plane capable of maneuvering on the battlefield and in urban areas.
The battery-powered drone was built by AeroVironment for the Pentagon's research arm as part of a series of experiments in nanotechnology. The little flying machine is built to look like a bird for potential use in spy missions.
The Hummingbird is the result of a five-year effort, announced Thursday by the company and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Equipped with a camera, the drone can fly at speeds of up to 11 mph, AeroVironment said. It can hover and fly sideways, backward and forward, as well as go clockwise and counterclockwise, by remote control for about eight minutes.
The quick flight meets the goals set forth by the government to build a flying "hummingbird-like" aircraft. It also demonstrates the promise of fielding mini-spy planes. Industry insiders see the technology eventually being capable of flying through open windows or sitting on power lines, capturing audio and video while enemies would be none the wiser.
With a wingspan of 6.5 inches, the mini-drone weighs just over half an ounce, or less than a AA battery. The Hummingbird's guts are made up of motors, communications systems and a videocamera. It is slightly larger than the average hummingbird.
For now, the Hummingbird is just a prototype, Matt Keennon, the company's manager on the project, said. But 10 years from now, he sees the technology carrying out detailed reconnaissance missions.
But it's not likely to be a "hummingbird," considering that that's a rare bird in, say, New York City.
"I'm not a bird expert, but a sparrow seems to be better," Keennon said.