Military's Hummingbird micro-UAVs
A quick note: My dad actually gave me the inspiration for this hub. He was interested in knowing more about these doohickeys, so I followed through.
So what happens when a soldier on a battlefield wants to see around the corner or over the hill? Human scouts have been used all throughout history, with obvious pros and cons. Since we have ethics, simply sending in the lowest rank of personnel on scouting missions seems old school. Satellites on the modern battlefield provide very useful information, however are not all that practical for use on the squad level. Sometimes Predator and Reaper drones (possibly RQ-170s) are unavailable due to weather, limited supply, or suffer from different degrees of mechanical failure. What can a squad do in order to prevent human loss but still keep an eye on the enemy? Well here you go:
It is easy to summarize the history of small UAV's because there isn't that much history. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), doing their thing, considered the idea of a small reconnaissance drone seriously in about 1992 but didn't get much enthusiasm from everyone else. In 1999 the Army and Marines put AeroVironment's RQ-11 Ravens in the hands of our soldiers and pow! the revolution of small UAV's began. The capability of having a small drone with a camera proved so priceless to soldiers that MasterCard reportedly considered them for a commercial. However the first model of the Raven (The A model) was basically a prototype. It was loud, suffered issues due to lack of endurance, and required too much supporting equipment. Being loud and needing serious support on a battlefield are not qualities that are desired. As a result, serious research was done to improve it. In 2005 the B model won the hearts and minds of the Army in an SUAV competition, and more than 13,000 have been produced since.
The Ravens have saved lives in almost all departments of the military (SOCOM and the Air Force have bought some), not to mention being exported to the allies of the United States. They are army wallet friendly as well...one Raven goes for $35,000 with the entire system costing $250,000.
There are so many backpack UAV's now that talking about all of them is beyond the scope of the article. Other prominent SUAV's (small UAV's) as further reading topics include the Israeli Skylark, the Lockheed-Martin Desert Hawk, or Germany's EMT Aladin.
So off the battlefield and onto talking about the wave of the future: nano UAV's.
My favorite Pioneer: AeroVironment and DARPA's Hummingbird
So hopefully you're going to watch the video above because my writing doesn't do this thing justice.
A couple of quick notes that you might not believe that you're seeing:
- Yes, it flies by flapping its wings. If nature can do it, so can we I guess. On the other hand, I've never really seen much like that before. The speed of the wings in an elliptical motion must be incomparable. However, flapping offers advantages. On that scale flapping is much more efficient at providing lift than propellers or rotors.
- The fact that we can control it indoors is also impressive. Humans navigating something with that much control, that is that small, and that flies by flapping its wings that fast seemed impossible to me. You have to remember that it doesn't have a cockpit.
- It can hover for 8 minutes on internal batteries, fly at 11 miles per hour, and withstand 5 mph crosswind. Not the greatest stat line, but one has to remember its small size. I bet these numbers improve over time (at that rate it can still fly just under 1.5 miles if you flew it in a straight line).
Here is BBC's take on the subject.
The military practicality is obvious. If improved more, perhaps made even more lifelike, then perhaps it could be used for raids such as the one that took down Osama. Apparently DARPA isn't satisfied with the current model, so they're asking for your help in desigining the next future version.
Wait, it can get better?
Judging by the rate at which technology has improved, I'm willing to wager that more similar UAV's will come (or already exist). Finding the right scale for each UAV is important. For example, UAV's shaped like birds may be useful for border control missions whereas helicopters or Predators would be too expensive. Also, UAV's flying around cities (perhaps also made after birds for aesthetic reasons) may one day assist firefighters and other emergency vehicles in responding to emergencies. The possibilities are endless.
Here are two photos of similar topics: