Yesterday at the TED2012 conference in Long Beach, Calif., a swarm of autonomous robotic helicopters, developed by Vijay Kumar and others from the UPenn, demonstrated their unique capabilities by performing the James Bond theme song.
The robots elegantly move around the room to play different instruments without crashing into each other. Each quadrotor has been assigned a series of points in space that it must reach at specific times to play notes. But the robots decide themselves which routes to take between the different locations. To help them out, infrared lights and cameras track reflectors on their bodies and wirelessly relay their position to the other robots.
The coordinated movement demonstrated in this performance is essential to flying swarms as they are developed to survey landscapes or build structures.
UPenn has even more on these quadrotors and their technological implications. I am at once fascinated and scared by the thought of autonomous, swarming, robotic helicopters. As Andy jokes, “they play pretty well for mindless killing machines.”