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US robot ornithopter spy-hummingbird in flight test triumph

Al-Qaeda to form Dick Dastardly bird-buster squadron?

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Amazing news from the world of tiny robot spy ornithopters today, as developers have announced successful flight trials of the tiny robot spy ornithopter "Hummingbird" prototype – so named perhaps because it is roughly the size of a hummingbird, weighs as much as a hummingbird and looks like a horse ... no, sorry, like a hummingbird.

Here's video proof, for which we're indebted to Graham Warwick of the Ares blog, who has beaten the Reg aerospace desk to the punch yet again*:

The diminutive flapping-wing spybot was made by famous Californian crazytech company AeroVironment. It has a wingspan of 16cm and weighs just 19 grammes, which is "less than the weight of a common AA battery", AeroVironment says. The little machine also comes with "a removable body fairing, which is shaped to have the appearance of a real hummingbird".

The company says that these specs are a little larger and heavier than an average hummingbird, but there are species of hummingbird which are bigger.

Like its flesh-and-blood namesake, the little ornithopter is capable of maintaining a sustained hover as well as forward flight, and is highly manoeuvrable in tight spaces. It is quite capable of flying into a building through a normal-sized door and then moving about within, controlled by an operator using only the video feed from the machine's tiny vidcam.

As will probably already be apparent to regular readers, the Hummingbird was developed for legendary Pentagon technology shop DARPA, which stands in relation to US military commanders somewhat as Clunk stands to Dick Dastardly of Vulture Squadron: DARPA inventions tend not to work**, but they're almost always entertaining. In this case, rather as in the cartoon, it would seem likely that it will be America's enemies seeking to catch troublesome speedy wing-flappers.

"The success of the NAV program paves the way for a new generation of aircraft with the agility and appearance of small birds," says DARPA bigcheese Todd Hylton, chief of the Nano Air Vehicles (NAV) effort.

More details courtesy of AeroVironment here. ®

Bootnotes

*Damn you for distracting us, Anna Chapman, with your slinky Russian secret-agent-cum-spacegoing-haut-couture-designer antics.

**By intention: DARPA is tasked with high-risk research, so obviously most of its ideas will never work. Even among those that do, there is a tendency for the technology to work in a way that wasn't intended. The most famous example is the internet, which was originally loosely intended for military communications. Instead it has mainly been responsible for various unexpected but nonetheless significant accomplishments – for instance the fact that a significant proportion of the human race has now seen Paris Hilton playing hide the sausage.

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