It is so hard to make it small…Monday, February 21st, 2011 by Roberto Saracco
Think about it. Nature is building its “products” from a tiny seed that grows over time to become a oak or a pea, a fly or a whale.
We work differently. We start big (even a tiny bolt is bigger than a seed or a spermatozoa) and then we assemble parts to form even bigger objects. Nanotech is working in a much similar way to Nature but with Nanotech we can only build nanothings. We are still missing the capacity to start small and grow.
Some objects, like an airplane, have to be “big enough” to embed all required controls and mechanisms. We can build an electronic fly, as an example, although some attempts are being made.
Hence, it is with surprise that I just read of the feat accomplished by AeroVironment in developing a humming bird size replica that can fly, hoover, counterbalance the side wind and be precisely directed on a desired path.
This result stems from a research grant provided by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (the one who gave the starting kick to the Internet…) to develop a small bird sized aircraft within a set of tight constraints, like the one just mentioned above.
The artificial hummingbird is slightly bigger than the average hummingbird but smaller than the biggest one. It weights 19 grams and has a wing span of 16 cm.
Just the other day I published a post on the work at the MIT on the creation of a flying screen built up by thousands of tiny flying dots. The kind of control those dots have is minimal, basically the can only hoover in an environment where there is no wind. You would never be able to set up that screen in the open. Too much control is required.
This hummingbird has the control it takes to do that and is even able to carry a camera on board, but, of course, it would too big to be used as a pixel in a flying screen. Still a long way to go to reach that point.
However, it could easily carry a sensor to places where it would be difficult to have one and a fleet (or should I say a flock?) of them can perform amazing task in sensing the environment.
Besides, it is not unconceivable to imagine an ecosystem stemming out of flying sensors providing the possibility to create apps for a real flying platform.