First the hummingbird. Built by AeroVironment, this is one of those projects where the guy from DARPA says, “Here’s a giant pile of money. When I come back next year I want you to blow my mind. You understand me? BLOW MY MIND.” Putting a little bird face on it was gilding the lily in my opinion, but I won’t hold it against them. Consider: on that tiny mechanical bird they managed to stow away a control system, battery power for eight minutes’ flight, a real-time video transmitter, a copy of Reader’s Digest (May 2010), a bag of Skittles, an extra pair of underwear, a tumbler of ice, and a half-full bottle of gin. I don’t know what the DARPA guy said, but it blew my mind. Curiously, the AeroVironment guys have also built a flying model of the largest animal that ever flew. I’m speaking of course of the venerable Quetzalcoatlus northropi.
Next are the ping-pong playing quadrocopters. These machines are so impressive that the videos are starting to look boring. But the flying they’re doing is really phenomenal.
Best for last. People have been trying to build machines that fly like birds since well before Leonardo da Vinci. Everyone failed miserably. We only started to succeed with our flying machines when we realized that they don’t have to look like birds. We had to give up on that dream, because we’re just not that good, okay? Not until now, anyway. For the first time in history humans have finally succeeded in making something that really seems to fly like a bird.