It looks like someone have picked up where AeroVironment have left off. If you recall, AeroVironment had developed a Nano Hummingbird several yeas ago under a DARPA program aimed in developing Nano Air Vehicle or NAV. So, yeah, someone has developed a hummingbird drone and this being six years on, technology this hummingbird is way more advanced.
In fact, this latest hummingbird-inspired flying contraption, called Hummingbird Robot, developed by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S.A. is more agile unlike the Nano Hummingbird which was heavier and less maneuverable. Hummingbird Robot mimics how a hummingbird flies and it was conceived with search and rescue operations in mind.
Do not mistaken this as a mere miniature drone, though. It is way more than that. This flying robot is very advanced. It was “taught” to behave like nature’s hummingbirds by machine learning algorithms, after which it uses the knowledge it has learned to move around on its own. Amazingly, it is even capable of discerning when to execute an escape maneuver like a real hummingbird would.
Currently, Hummingbird has no eyes (i.e. video camera), but it does have sensing surfaces that allows it to enable tracking of locations simply by coming into contact with surfaces.
“The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful in a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place – and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see.”
The current iteration features 3D-printed body parts and wings made of carbon fiber and laser-cut membranes. It is incredibly light, tipping the scales at mere 12g like the real-deal would weigh and it is totally capable of lifting more than its own weights, up to 27g. The research team even developed another insect-sized robot weighing just 1g.
For now, this little fellow needs to be tethered to an energy source, but the research team is confident that its tethered days are numbered. As soon as the team get around giving it higher lift, it could then be outfitted with a battery, along with sensors such as a camera or GPS chip.
The development, while exciting, it is not without caveat. The fact that could fly silently like a real hummingbird and looks nearly similar to one, it has covert operations written all over it. In other words, it could be used for surveying (a nice way of saying “spying,” I guess) unsuspecting human subjects or use in military operations to recon enemy movements.
Yikes. Somehow Dan Brown predicted this could happen. In one Brown’s book, he did described a surveillance nano bot the size of fly that recharges by harvest radio waves emitted from our everyday electronic devices. Now, the more I think of it, it feels kind of unsettling. How about we just leave the bird to search-and-rescue missions and nothing else?
But with this news out, it is hard not for the military not to be interested in this “upgraded” faux hummingbird. Anywho, the researchers will be pressing their work on May 20 at the 2019 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Montreal. If this haven’t got to the defense department, I am pretty sure after that conference, they will take notice.
Images: Purdue University.