NATION

Company builds spy plane the size of a hummingbird

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Changing technology is impacting how the U.S. fights the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around 7,000 drones or robots fly the skies of those countries. A company has developed a drone prototype the size of a bird.

The new  technology is inspired by one of nature’s great marvels: a hummingbird. It was developed by a company called Aerovironment, which produces drones for a research branch of the Pentagon. It was asked to test how small unmanned fighter planes could get. After five years and $4 million, the company developed a plane about the size of a hummingbird.

"It's about the size of a larger hummingbird, it weighs less than a double-A battery, about 19 grams, and its only method of flight and control are these two wings,” Steve Gitlin of Aerovironment explains.

The operator can see what his winged partner is seeing, fly 11 miles per hour in any direction, or drop off a tiny load, like a listening device.

“I thought it was wicked cool and then kind of wicked scary,” said Peter Singer, the author of “Wired War.”

“It’s very cool technology for spying on a terrorist. Of course these same technologies proliferate in everything from law enforcement to criminals,” Singer said.

There are privacy issues to using such small devices. Gitlin says they can be lifesaver, for example helping rescuers find victims in the tiniest of areas after earthquakes and hurricanes.

The hummingbird is just a prototype, but the company says there is potential for mass production. The company’s next goal is to make the plane more autonomous, so it doesn’t need a human operator, by using GPS to fly and spy.

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