AeroVironment, Inc.’s Nano Hummingbird

The flight of a hummingbird has been fascinating to study since it is able to fly backwards and hover. The amount of energy it must use to flap its wings 12-90 times per second seems impossible for a creature its size. It  also manages to control its flight so precisely that it can  point its beak into a flower and drink the nectar directly while hovering. This type of controlled flight is what inspired AeroVironment, Inc., sponsored by DARPA, to create the Nano Hummingbird.

Watch videos of it in action here:

DARPA intended AeroVironment, Inc. to create Nano Air Vehicles. These NAVs could be used for reconnaissance and surveillance uses. The Nano Hummingbird is a remote-controlled battery-powered NAV prototype that can fly indoors and outdoors. So far, it can only fly for 11 minutes. However, it can fly up to 17 km/h with a variety of movements: moving side to side, forward and backward, up and down, rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise, and hovering. Its total weight is only 19 grams and it has a wingspan of 6.5 inches. It interesting how “nano” the aircraft really is. 19 grams of total weight includes the motor, batteries, camera, frame, and comm systems. Though it is heavier than a real hummingbird, it is capable of flying just like one.

Nano Hummingbird

The Nano Hummingbird worked so well that it managed to meet and exceed some of DARPA’s expectations. The hovering is so precise that it can be done within a 2 m diameter sphere. The Nano Hummingbird was also able to withstand winds up to 2 m/s without being blown away. Remote-controlling the aircraft was also efficient because the person operating it does not have to be able to see or hear the aircraft, using the live video feed for sight only. The aircraft can also fly through doorways and transition from hovering to forward flight and vice versa smoothly.

This is an example of what biomimicry can do. Imagine in the future, a bunch of these nano hummingbirds used as spy drones in urban areas. An aircraft this small could appear anywhere, be barely noticeable, and may even be equipped with certain weapons.


Nano Hummingbird. AeroVironment Inc.

AeroVironment Nano Hummingbird. Wikipedia.

Hennigan, W.J. It’s a bird! It’s a spy! It’s both. Los Angeles Times. February 17, 2011

Mostyn, Steven. DARPA in a flap over Nano Hummingbird spy drone. The Tech Herald. February 21, 2011.


Lorena Barba posted on October 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Hi Kevin,
Ah, yes! We have the robot hummingbird appear on our blog—you beat me to it!

And does anyone remember when we heard of the company Aerovironment before??

Kevin Ma posted on October 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Was it when there was a competition between who could build the first man-powered airplane? I think that the gossamer condor was the one that won.

Lorena Barba posted on October 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Yes! You’ve got that right. It’s the same company that won the prize for the human-powered flight, and then did the English channel crossing, and the sun-powered craft … and now they are doing these micro-air vehicles. Isn’t it very impressive?