A few years from now, bird-watchers may be in for a double take: that flapping creature in the distance? Nope, not a bird. Mutant dragon fly? Nope--it's Darpa's latest unmanned aerial robo-sentinel, inspired by the flight mechanics of birds.
The tech company Aerovironment recently won a $2.1 million contract to further their work on the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV). One of many progressive projects from Darpa (the Pentagon's advanced-research unit), the NAV is the first-ever "controlled hovering flight of an air vehicle system with two flapping wings that carries its own energy source and uses only the flapping wings for propulsion and control," says Aerovironment.
In the future, Darpa plans to use the teeny NAV for secret indoor and outdoor government missions, like dropping off listening devices and other cargo, and transmiting sound and video to locations as far as a kilometer away.
The above tasks are, presumably, ones that any small air vehicle could take on--which raises a question: cool factor aside, how is the ornithopter better than any run-of-the-mill tiny helicopter? According to Darpa, the advantages lie in something called the Reynolds number, a measurement of airborne efficiency that is lower (and technologically better) for flying creatures (like hummingbirds) compared to regular aircraft.
Aerovironment plans to make the next batch of birds smaller (10 grams and 7.5 cm), faster (22 mph), quieter, and more wind-resistant.
I think we all know where this is heading, click for the end product:
Thats pretty cool, but it also looks expensive. It might be a great toy to harras your pets with, but other than that, I don't think it could hold up for military purposes.
It seems like sometimes technology has to look backwards for inspiration in order for us to move concepts forward. I always remember how histgory noted that Leonardo studied the flight of birds for hours in order to gain the understandings of flight. This is truly fun to watch and I look forward to the flight evolution of these robo-sentinels.
Its clear wing flapping is one of the most effective and efficient flying methods - just look to nature. You don't see any flying creatures using any other type of propulsion. Nature has probably picked ornithopters for good reason. Now we just need to work on the combining of the flapping mechanisms with gliding and get something like a frigate bird.
Personally I think if there is going to be a personal flight vehicle it will be an ornithopter. Seems like a safer and more efficient idea than a jetpack, strap on a pair of wings, flap your way up and glide your way down.
This is such a huge and exciting step for flight technology. I think a big problem will be powering the things for durations that make them practical. Hummingbirds expend so much energy on flying and hovering that they need to eat every few minutes just to stay alive. Our ornithopter materials will need to be as light, strong, and flexible as the bones of hummingbirds just to match their longevity; moving beyond that will be a great challenge indeed.
Ornithopters. And Frank Herbert smiles.
If we could develop a small, more powerful (vastly) energy source, then I think Lifter technology would be the answer. Lifter technology acheives flight with NO moving parts!
Check it out - google Lifters.
to me all this seams to be smaller more efficient RC for giving the government yet another method of ruining peoples privacy...who can garauntee that this will be only used to seek out terrorists? Misuse is inevitable, further corruption of the world will continue and be fueled by these things.
cheers to Frank Herbert, the great author :)