One Day A Tiny Flapping-Wing UAV May Spy On You

Robot aircraft – UAVs – are going to be big news in the future of warfighting, as the reveal of the UK’s new one proves. But have you thought about tiny UAVs for spying? Check out this robot insect to see the future of surveillance.

It’s called the DelFlyII from the Technical University of Delft, and it just got to show its amazing flying paces at the International Micro Air Vehicle Conference and Flight Competition 2010. The robot took just a year to design and build, and it had to meet a number of technical and design requirements in order to compete in the flight games – including fitting inside a sphere with a 30cm radius.

Quite astonishingly, the 16-gram flapping robot (strictly, an ornithopter) can fly along at up to 15 metres per second, it can hover and even fly backwards at up to half a metre a second. According to the team, this means it’s the very first “ornithopter that has such a wide flight envelope without any adjustments” in the aircraft’s aerodynamic configuration. And it can do all of this partly autonomously, navigating its way around and partly under remote control … while delivering wireless video from an on-board webcam.

Check out the demo video of DelFly II in action at the IMAVC, including the complicated indoor mission that involved flying into a mock building, identifying a number of targets, and then completing a safe landing on the roof.

It’s impressive and fun, but that indoor mission is a dead giveaway for the future uses of this technology: It’s going to be used in tiny spy planes. All those tired old sci-fi staples of housefly-sized spy bots may come true. And if its combined with the kind of novel perching technology we’ve shown you before, it’s not hard to imagine micro UAV ornithopters of the future quietly flapping their way into target buildings, hiding behind the drapes and listening in on conversations, or beaming out video of the baddies in action inside their hideout. That’s assuming battery tech and motor tech improves beyond the prototype systems used in DelFly II – it can manage just 15 minutes of flight and eight minutes of hover.

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