The November issue of Popular Mechanics had a one-page article that caught my attention. It described a robotic hummingbird about the size of a real hummingbird, with the key difference being the robot carries a camera.
A company called AeroVironment designed this tiny robot bird, which can sit in the palm of your hand. It has no propellers, and flies by flapping its wings, just like a real bird. The Nano Hummingbird contains a camera, motors for its wings, a battery for power, and a radio transmitter that streams color video, all in a package that weighs less than one AA battery.
It also has an impressive speed of 11 miles per hour. This may not sound fast, until you consider that it can fly straight paths above obstacles, and is considerably faster than most people can run.
Aerovironment also makes a range of small unmanned aerial vehicles for the US military, including the Wasp, Raven and Puma, but they are all much larger than the Nano Hummingbird. The article mentioned the US military hopes this invention will be the first of a new class of aerial surveillance robots. These robots could fly both indoors and outside to identify targets and collect intelligence.
As with most technologies, this has the potential for good or bad. I shudder when I think about a future where swarms of small UAVs fly through our cities, constantly watching us. On the other hand, there are many possible uses for vehicles like these. Imagine if we could fly them into buildings that are on fire to locate injured people. Or use them to find people lost at sea or in the wilderness.
Either way, it won't be long before you'll see a bird fly by and wonder if it's a bird...or a robot.