Bird-sized drones the future of US warcraft

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Military researchers in the US are developing a new breed of unmanned drones that are the size of birds and even bugs.

An American company called AeroVironment has developed a ‘Nano Hummingbird’ drone that could be used for reconnaissance and surveillance.

The bird-sized drone can fly inside and outside and has a top speed of 11 miles per hour, even in windy conditions.


Like conventional larger drones, the pilot can fly the microdrone remotely using the onboard camera.

The latest microdrones are being designed to mimic the way a real bird or insect flies, making them less conspicuous in hostile environments.


By 2030, the US military says it envisions swarms of ‘spy flies’ equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies, nuclear weapons or victims buried in rubble.

Since 9/11 drones have transformed the way the US military has fought the war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The Pentagon now has 7,000 drones which are used to fire missiles or spy on insurgents.

A California company has developed a drone that looks like a hummingbird. This nano-hummingbird is smaller than drones now used by the United States military. The manufacturer, AeroVironment, develops and tests its drones near Los Angeles. The experimental bird-like aircraft is radio-controlled and has a camera. Matthew Keennon is supervising the project.

MATTHEW KEENNON: “It’s being manipulated and controlled to allow the forward and backward flight, the rotation, and also the side to side flight. And all that’s happening by just changing the curvature and the shape and the different aspects of the wing movement at a very high speed.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency paid for the project. Agency officials wanted a vehicle that could copy something in nature. Matthew Keennon says the challenge was huge and exciting.

MATTHEW KEENNON: “Because every time we made an improvement, got better, we were just so amazed.”

AeroViroment has also been testing one of the world’s largest drones. The company’s Steven Gitlin says this one can fly in Earth’s stratosphere.

STEVEN GITLIN: “And it’s designed to fly for up to seven days at a time at about 65,000 feet [19.8 kilometers] altitude and carry a payload that either helps somebody see what they want to see or relays communication from one point to another.”

AeroViroment says drones also have civilian uses — for public safety, security, and search and rescue.

AeroVironment video of flight tests of its Nano Hummingbird flapping-wing nano air vehicle, developed for DARPA. Battery-powered and remote-controlled, the hummingbird-like prototype uses flapping wings for propulsion and control. Carring a video camera and downlink, the prototype has a wingspan of 16cm (9.5in) and weighs just 19 grams (0.66oz). It can hover for 8 minutes, remaining stable in gusts up to 5mph, and reach up to 11mph in forward flight.


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