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Using Biomimicry, DARPA Creates Hummingbird-Like Spy Drone

Steve Puma | Wednesday March 2nd, 2011 | 0 Comments
AeroVironment Develops World's First Fully Operational Life-Size Hummingbird-Like Unmanned Aircraft for DARPA.

The Nano Hummingbird — Ain't He Cute?

If I had to pick a favorite U.S. Government agency, TheDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), would be it. It has a cool-sounding name and has worked on fascinating projects such as the Internet, developed GPS, held the über-cool DARPA Grand Challenge, and is currently working on interesting tech, like the ominously-named DARPA Silent Talk (which is, believe it or not, soldier telepathy!)


On first glance is DARPA’s latest invention is less threatening than Silent Talk: a tiny spy drone, called the Nano-Hummingbird. In a very direct application of biomimicry principles, the video- and audio-equipped, remotely-controlled drones, look and fly like real hummingbirds, and are therefore extremely hard to detect. The spy devices’ potential military uses are numerous, but could also be used for things like search-and-rescue, and disaster relief.

Of course, the news has barely hit the Internet, and many are already afraid that these “spy devices” will be the end of privacy as we know it. While the widespread use of these devices potentially has huge implications for society, I believe that, ultimately, the net effect will be positive. Read on, to find out why.

Just because DARPA invented this little beauty for the military doesn’t mean we should start shaking in our boots quite yet. Many of their inventions have done more good than evil.

Imagine how useful inventions like these could be in underground movements (Libya and Egypt spring to mind), especially when it comes to taking video the government doesn’t want shown.

You’re probably thinking that something like this works just as well for both sides. That seems like a common-sense answer. But, if that were true, then wouldn’t the various Arab revolutions, which have been fueled by social media, be easily crushed by their oppressors? After all, those in power have access to the same social media resources in addition to their many other resources protestors lack.



Perhaps it is because the younger generation, the ones who are driving the protests, have much more familiarity with technology. Their oppressors’ attempts have surely been quite inept.

I believe that it might be more than that. I believe that the “message is more powerful than the medium,” and that this device will only serve to increase empowerment, not oppression, and help people in need.

Side note: Any geeky sixth-grader worth his salt, could build his own mini spy drone, from easily-available parts. You could too! Just take a small, R/C helicopter ($20), and attach a mini wireless video cam ($20). It won’t look like a hummingbird, but it will still be innocuous (and FUN!).


Steve Puma is Director of Business Development for SABA Motors, and a sustainability writer/consultant. His work focuses (mostly) on clean transportation, including Plug-In Electric Vehicles, something he is very passionate about.

Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can learn more about Steve by reading his blog, or following his tweets.


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