Nano Air Vehicle (NAV)
The Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program is developing an extremely small, ultra lightweight air vehicle system (less than 15 centimeters and less than 20 grams) with the potential to perform indoor and outdoor military missions. NAV is exploring novel, flapping wing and other configurations to provide warfighters with unprecedented capability during urban operations.
NAV will push the limits of aerodynamics, power conversion efficiency, endurance and maneuverability for very small air vehicle systems. These platforms will be revolutionary in their ability to harness low Reynolds number physics, navigate in complex environments, and communicate over significant distances. Flight-enabling nano air technologies include aerodynamic design tools to achieve high lift-to-drag airfoils; lightweight, efficient propulsion and power systems; guidance, navigations and communication subsystems; and advanced manufacturing and innovative subsystem packaging and configurations layouts.
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.
“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.”
Also, 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.
In 2005, DARPA announced the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program and its goal to develop agile and flyers system that could fit in one hand. This video chronicles the development of a “hummingbird” flyer by Aerovironment from concept to prototype demonstration and introduction to the public. A number of difficult design and engineering challenges were overcome in the course of the program, particularly in the wing structure, propulsion and control actuators. Numerous complete prototypes were built and tested to assess and improve the performance of the systems shown in the video. The final prototype achieves the noteworthy milestone of 2-wing flapping hovering and fast forward flight with all power sources on the aircraft and all controls implemented through modulation of the wing strokes in a shape that resembles a real hummingbird and carries and on-board camera that relays video to the pilot in real time.