Robotic hummingbird spy plane

 Newman Gfx News Robothumming Drone manufacturer AeroVironment has demonstrated their "Nano-Hummingbird" tiny spy plane. The prototype is approximately the size of a real hummingbird, weighs the same as an AA battery, and is outfitted with a video camera. AeroVironment is working on the device for the Department of Defense, 'natch. From PhysOrg:
Manager of the project, Matt Keennon, said it had been a challenge to design and build the spybot because it “pushes the limitations of aerodynamics.” The specifications given to the firm by the Pentagon included being able to hover in an 8 km/h wind gust and being able to fly in and out of buildings via a normal door.

The spybot was developed for the US military's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The hummingbird appearance is intended to disguise the bot, although it would look decidedly out of place and would attract attention in most places in the world since hummingbirds are not found outside of the Americas.

(The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's) head of the Nano Air Vehicles (NAV) program, Dr Todd Hylton, said the successful flight tests pave the way for new vehicles that resemble small birds and match their agility. The new drone is a departure from existing NAVs, which in the past have always resembled helicopters or planes.

More on the Nano-Hummingbird here and demo video after the jump.


  1. I guess it’ll be used for spying in the Americas then.

    The funny part is that tech like this initially helps the wannabe overlord types, but invariably some garage tech will put one together and they will be hovering over every power tripper in a uniform.

  2. In related news, Halliburton signed a no-bid contract to be the DoD’s sole supplier of tactical nectar at $4300 an ounce.

  3. Given that hummingbirds are native only to the Americas, the most likely surveillance targets are US residents. Feeling safer yet?

  4. I have a cat that would soon put a stop to that nonsense.
    It may be something to do with the frame rate, but the wings don’t seem to be flapping nearly enough to keep something the weight of a AA battery airborne.

    1. I’m pretty confident that the number of wing beats per second is very nearly a multiple of the frame rate of the camera, so the wing is almost in the same place every time a new frame is captured.

      1. agreed; plus a high shutter speed so that the wings don’t blur during the exposure

        gotta wonder if this robobird can only be controlled by a line-of-sight signal? i’m guessing there’s not much room on the machine for a satellite link

  5. It’s kind of hard to tell how loud this thing is, but it certainly seems noticeable. That would be an interesting problem: how do you reduce the noise signature of a device like this? Muscle energy is incredibly quiet, being chemical in nature, but I bet the primary source of the noise is from air flow disruptions caused by the wing material.

    Why do I suspect that the answer lies in some type of artificial feather?

    1. I have hummingbirds in my yard pretty often. They are _loud_. It sounds like the biggest bee in the world is about to come after you. This thing didn’t sound like a hummingbird, but it didn’t seem much louder than a real one.

  6. I am pretty sure we had something like this when I was stationed in West Germany years ago. Oh, wait… that was a HUMMV. nevermind

  7. It’s probably using a flight model based on the hummingbird, given the hummingbird’s ability to hover and change directions. Giving it a hummingbird skin was probably just for the “see, it can look natural!” cool factor.

    Also, consider that someone mis-read a DoD request for “Smaller, more lightweight hummers” and misinterpreted the request :)

  8. Real hummingbirds may only live in the Americas, but here in Europe we have a fine example of convergent evolution in the hummingbird moth. Both the bird and the moth feed on nectar and really are extraordinary similar. The moths here really do look just like the birds I saw in the Catskills.

    1. We have the hummingbird moths in the US as well, at least in the Midwest. The first one I ever saw tried to land on my ear, scared the holy hell out me, thought I was being attacked by The World’s Largest Bee. Amazingly cool though, once my heart slowed down and I was able to observe it flying around.

  9. uh… if you wouldn’t want it to attract attention to itself then why would you make it look like a hummingbird? Hummingbirds are so awesome that whenever you see one you stop what you’re doing and stare at it for as long as it’ll hang around. Certainly long enough to realize that it’s a robot hummingbird. That’s some major stealth thinking there DARPA.

  10. Gotta second what Hank said.

    I have a hummingbird feeder outside and have hummingbirds all the time. That doesn’t look like a hummingbird; it looks like a robot trying hard to look like a hummingbird and failing.

    The other thing about hummingbirds is that they exhibit extreme high-energy non-ballistic motion changes any time they feel like it, which is a lot. Get two hummingbirds in close proximity and you get two angry winged needles in a stabbing contest. I don’t see this robot doing any of that either.

    On the other hand, hummingbirds are pretty loud. They definitely have a prominent buzz-burr and so the robot’s noise might not disqualify it, depending on how loud it actually is. The pitch of the sound is low, but it’s probably more important not to attract attention than to be realistic.

    If I saw one of those it’d make me look closer, but with a distracted target, or for surveillance of unoccupied areas, it seems good enough to stay unnoticed.

  11. not trying to nit-pick but i live a long way from the americas on the island of borneo (that’s in matt) and we have all sorts of hummingbirds here. i like birds, robots and geography. yup…

    1. I don’t know what you’ve got humming in Borneo, but they’re not hummingbirds, which exist only in the Americas.

  12. That’s some freaking humongous hummingbird!
    Suppose it also clicks and whirrrrrs and maybe even has a few blinking lights?
    Perhaps they could come up with a better design if they pulled out their heads out of their asses?

  13. A giant Pentagon contract and the best they can come up with for their final presentation is flying the thing in a parking lot on a blue-sky day with the sun flaring in its camera? Wow, they need some communications consultants, ASAP.

  14. “Looks like Mexican drug cartels are going to have some new sets of eyes watching them.”

    How much do you want to bet that after the us pays 100 million to perfect this, the company sells a version as a toy, mexican drug lods buy some, take out the camera, fill it with drugs and fly them 1,000 at a time over the border.

    Somewhere there is a darpa contractor he never made a fortune off his origianl development of the IED.

  15. Fantastic device. Spy Gadgets are getting smaller and smaller and at this rate it will be extremely difficult to trace them. On the same Spy planes topic, I recently read about a spy plane that is just 3 gram in weight

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