What you might have only expected to see in a James Bond movie has now become mission possible, as the Pentagon is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of tiny drones and large unmanned aerial systems that take military surveillance and even military offense into the next millennium.
Take, for example, the nano-hummingbird.
Fox News got a first glimpse of the nano-hummingbird a few weeks back at AeroVironment, a Southern California company developing the next wave in unmanned aircraft of all sizes and shapes. Inspired by nature, each of these electronic birds is equipped with video and audio equipment that can record sights and sounds.
They could be used by our troops to spy, but also to locate people inside buildings destroyed by a major earthquake, like the one last year in Haiti.
On the other end of the spectrum is the company's Global Observer, which allows the military to deploy an unmanned aircraft that can fly continuously for up to a week at an altitude of 55,000 to 65,000 feet. What makes this so amazing is that it can reach any point on Earth within hours of takeoff.
Global Observer can provide a platform for communications relays, remote sensing or long-term surveillance, all while flying well above weather and flight lines used by conventional aircraft. Global Observer basically offers greater flexibility than a satellite and longer duration than conventional manned and unmanned aircraft.
Companies involved in developing this type of technology tell Fox News that these new aircraft are meant to help solve the problems of dull, dirty and dangerous: These are the three elements that pose danger to our men and women in the skies.
The dull would be the long flight plans that take hours to complete. The dirty -- flights into zones where there may have been nuclear activity or release of other poisons. And the dangerous means flights into airspace that the U.S. doesn't either govern or have permission to enter.
Boeing has a similar unmanned aerial system called the Phantom Ray. The company has already conducted tests at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, and the demonstrator aircraft is expected to eventually perform missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, suppression of enemy air defenses and autonomous aerial refueling.
“I would characterize this as the next generation, just given the shape, the technologies that are in it, the automation," Craig Brown from Boeing said. "I think it's at least ... indicative in some of the ways we're going in the future with unmanned systems."
But as much progress as developers are making with these amazing new unmanned systems, they are still considered experimental. The Department of Defense has given some grants, but purchases have not yet been made and eventually will be dependent on performance.