November 24, 2011
Miniature flying robot among TIME’s 2011 best 50 inventions
Rapidly flapping wings to hover, dive, climb, or dart through an open doorway, DARPA’s remotely controlled Nano Air Vehicle relays real-time video from a tiny on-board camera back to its operator. Weighing less than a AA battery and resembling a live hummingbird, the vehicle could give war fighters an unobtrusive view of threats inside or outside a building from a safe distance. This week, TIME Magazine named the Hummingbird one of the best 50 inventions of the year, featuring it on the November 28th cover.
“The Hummingbird’s development is in keeping with a long DARPA tradition of innovation and technical advances for national defense that support the agency’s singular mission – to prevent and create strategic surprise,” said Jay Schnitzer, director, Defense Sciences Office.
Creating a robotic hummingbird, complete with intricate wings and video capability, may not have seemed doable or even imaginable to some. But it was this same DARPA visionary innovation that decades ago led to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which were, at the time, inconceivable to some because there was no pilot on board. In the past two years, the Air Force has trained more initial qualification pilots to fly UAVs than fighters and bombers combined.
“Advances at DARPA challenge existing perspectives as they progress from seemingly impossible through improbable to inevitable,” said, DARPA Director Dr. Regina Dugan.
UAVs from the small WASP, to the Predator, to Global Hawk now number in the hundreds in Afghanistan. What once seemed inconceivable is now routine.
“At DARPA today we have many examples of people – national treasures themselves – who left lucrative careers, and PhD programs, to join the fight,” Dugan said. “Technically astute, inspiringly articulate, full of ‘fire in the belly,’ they are hell-bent and unrelenting in their efforts to show the world what’s possible. And they do it in service to our Nation.”
TIME Magazine also recognized DARPA’s innovative breakthrough in 3-D holography, the Urban Photonic Sandtable Display, among its top 50 inventions. The holographic sand table could give war fighters a virtual mission planning tool by enabling color 3-D scene depictions, viewable by 20 people from any direction—with no 3-D glasses required.
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