Watch These Tiny Robots As They Fly Well With Others

The quadccopters at the University of Pennsylvania GRASP Lab are truly trained to follow the golden robot rule: fly with others as you’d fly with yourself. Thanks to researchers Yash Mulgaonkar, Gareth Cross and Vijay Kumar, we can see how close these little flying robots are to their noble goal.

The team has created a number of failsafe systems that allow the robots to recover from damage while flying. They can even react to hitting moving objects without falling out of the sky. In one case, two human subjects can even play a little bit of robot ping-pong by batting a docile quadcopter back and forth.

The team has also created a system for a sort of uncanny flocking behavior.

“Later in the video you see 4 pico quadrotors in a ‘tactical delta formation’ showing that multiple pico quadrotors can not only fly in formation, but also follow the leader. In this video, three ‘scouts’ (forming the triangle) protect the leader (center) by forming a protective perimeter, and following the leader’s movements in real-time while maintaining the formation. We can also increase or decrease the span of the formation in real-time,” he said.

The robots can also react to mid-air collisions and even right themselves after an impact. In short, these little quadrotors are pretty darn cool.

“The project was started earlier this year with the design and development of the pico quadrotor. I’ve designed the robot from the ground-up, right from the circuit boards to the software to control it,” said Mulgaonkar. He is most excited by these tiny robots because of the size and agility.

“Small quadrotors have great potential in the fields of search and rescue, first response, and law enforcement, where their ability to fly through unstructured, constrained, 3-D environments permit human operators to safely obtain information about dangerous or otherwise inaccessible locations. In addition, scaling down the size of MAVs produces a significant increase in their agility.”

The coolest thing? None of the robots need much computing power to maintain level flight. Because each little robot has a set of sensors and processors built-in, all of this behavior can happen in real time without connection to a back-end computer. It’s not perfect, though: the robot does need to report to base when it’s trying to fly in formation and around obstacles.