Bird Bond: ‘Nano Hummingbird’ Drone Takes Spying to the Sky

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Courtesy AeroVironment, Inc.

This drone gives new meaning to “bird watching.”

Tech company AeroVironment has announced that the unmanned, “hummingbird–like” aircraft it’s been working on since 2006 has achieved its prescribed goals. The Nano Hummingbird, developed for DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, has both whimsy and espionage potential. Flying via remote control at something like 11 miles per hour, the drone wouldn’t be able to keep up with the living and breathing hummingbird. But then, real hummingbirds don’t have cameras.

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Fully outfitted, the “final concept demonstrator” is 6.5 inches and weighs just two–thirds of an ounce. Video shows the drone flying outside and in, successfully maneuvering through a doorway. AeroVironment says it has reached “a technical milestone never before achieved — controlled precision hovering and fast-forward flight of a two-wing, flapping wing aircraft that carries its own energy source, and uses only the flapping wings for propulsion and control.”

According to AeroVironment Vice President Steve Gitlin, the team tested more than 300 different wing designs before arriving at the current model. He says this prototype can be in the air for 11 minutes— reflecting some impressive upgrades since the drone’s 20–second flights about two years ago.

At the moment, the Nano Hummingbird’s fate is uncertain. “We’ve achieved what our customer asked us to,” Gitlin says, noting further refinement could follow, if the Defense Department wants to pursue it. In the meantime, we can imagine the future possibilities/privacy issues.

“The miniaturization of drones is where it really gets interesting,” Peter W. Singer, defense expert and author of Wired for War, a book about robotic warfare, tells the Los Angeles Times. “You can use these things anywhere, put them anyplace, and the target will never even know they’re being watched.” See the Nano Hummingbird in action:

The Birds may need a sequel. (via Los Angeles Times)

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of double agents through history)

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