In their quest to create the perfect spy, US military researchers have given the lowly hummingbird a mechanical upgrade.
Military surveillance is a trick business. The goal is to learn everything you can about an area, without alerting enemies to your presence. Human spies cost millions to train, suffer from fatigue and all too often sound just like David Hayter.
Thus, the US military is hoping robots can lend a mechanical hand to the fight. Specifically, tiny winged robots designed to look completely innocuous while they spy on targets.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a military research group most famous for creating the direct predecessor to our modern Internet, has spent the last few years (and likely millions of dollars) on the "Nano Air Vehicle" program. NAV's goal is to develop "an extremely small, ultra lightweight air vehicle system (less than 15 centimeters and less than 20 grams) with the potential to perform indoor and outdoor military missions."
More important to that whole "completely innocuous" bit is the program's aim to create a vehicle that remains aloft via flapping robotic wings. Traditional jet propulsion is great for high speed air travel, but it's not ideal for hovering over an area and snapping pictures. Helicopter-style rotors would work better, but they lack a capacity for agile movement, and are extremely visible in any environment not constructed entirely of ceiling fans.
By comparison, a tiny bird (and robots designed to exactly mimic tiny birds) can flit around an area in any direction, and are able to blend in with the wildlife of almost any region on Earth.
The NAV program is still a few years from pressing robotic hummingbirds into military service, but newly revealed video evidence of the 'bots in action looks very promising.
Well, once you get past the hilarious "robot hummingbirds crashing into walls" segment anyway. Everything beyond that is impressively realistic faux birds doing things that even their fleshy counterparts can't match.