Spying with Nature

The concept of a self propelling, romote controlled vehicle that would have to ability to fly through windows and spy on enemies has always been considered science fiction. They have been seen in movies such as James Bond or Transformers but now, scientists are figuring out ways to make these vehicles reality.

The Samurai Prototype

The Samurai Prototype

These devices are remote-controlled, battery-powerd vehicles that have two flapping wings that weigh about 2 grams, and is just over three inches in length. They are being developed to hopefully one day be able to have sensors and be used as spies to report back on enemy position. The  project is partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and is called the Nano Aerial Vehicle (NAV) program. It aims to develop an extremely small, ultra-lightweight aerial vehicle for urban military missions that can fly both indoors and outdoors and is capable of climbing and descending vertically as well as flying sideways left and right.

Devices like this have never been developed to actually be efficient in battle and they push the limit of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability. The flight of the vehicle resembles that of a hummingbird and was designed by AeroVironment and called the Nano Scout.

The scout is designed to fly forwards at speeds up to 20 mph, slow down to one mph for precise navigation, operate inside buildings, withstand 5 mph gusts, and have a range of over a 1/2 mile. The scout has broken barriers by being able to hover itself and it only uses the two wings as propulsion. It also carry’s its own power source and can last from 11 to 20 minutes.

One of the biggest problems that faces the Scout is navigation. The Scout would be operated in congested urban areas and there is not much GPS signal availability in theses areas. This is forcing the team to try and develop vision-based sensors and systems.

In order to try and advance to design researches are looking to insects as inspiration. They are researching the nerve physiology of insects to design better nervous systems for the Scout. They realize that many structures of insects are multifunctional and many times are multitasking without even knowing about it.

Research for the Scout is still in the early stages and there is still mush more to figure out. But, within 10 to 15 years, the fully perfected Scout will be on the battlefield.


Lorena Barba posted on October 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Hi David,
I’m confused why you included a picture of the Samarai (a vehicle under development by Lockheed Martin), if your post refers mostly to the NanoScout ?
Also, your source (which you failed to reference) made a mistake: It’s called the SAMARAI and not Samurai. (You should also probably edit this, as there are some direct quotes to the source.)

Alex Fredman posted on October 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm

It is surprising to me that AeroVironment would decide to create a hummingbird-like UAV rather than one that is rotor-driven. Could this be for noise, or maybe efficiency concerns?