The Nano Hummingbird ... the Pentagon's mini flying spy. Photo: AP/AeroVironment
LOS ANGELES - 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 Inc. 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 miles per hour, 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.
The next step is likely to be further refinement of the technology, officials said, before decisions are made about whether the drones would be mass-produced and deployed.
"The miniaturization of drones is where it really gets interesting," said defense expert Peter Singer, author of "Wired for War," a book about robotic warfare. "You can use these things anywhere, put them anyplace, and the target will never even know they're being watched."
With a wingspan of 6.5 inches, the mini-drone weighs less than an AA battery. The Hummingbird's guts are made up of motors, communications systems and a video camera. It is slightly larger than the average hummingbird.
The success of the program "paves the way for a new generation of aircraft with the agility and appearance of small birds," Todd Hylton, Hummingbird program manager for the Pentagon's research arm, said in a statement.
In all, the Pentagon has awarded about $4 million to AeroVironment since 2006 to develop the technology and the drone itself.
by W.J. Hennigan Los Angeles Times Feb. 18, 2011 12:00 AM