We've written about swarming robots before, like ones that will explore space, assemble satellites, and rescue coral reefs. Now the talented group that danced to light and music at Cannes in 2012 has learned how to play Thus Spake Zarathustra, among other things.
The autonomous hand-sized bots strut their stuff, as they burn through the Richard Strauss tone poem, an enduring hit for viewers of Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But that's not all -- they also play the Christmas tune Carol of the Bells and The Star Spangled Banner. I must admit, I prefer other versions of these compositions: my ears need a full human orchestra for appreciating Strauss, and I found their execution of the US national anthem sounded decidedly out of tune. (My fave version of that one was done by the immortal Jimi Hendrix.) But it's hard to beat the robots' version of the Christmas carol.
Speaking of guitars, there's an interesting setup in the video (watch it below) to enable the robots to play one. Connected to an electric guitar amp, it's a custom guitar with only one string, presumably making it easier to play by one bot. I can imagine several might run into each other if there were multiple strings too close together.
Another thing I noticed was that these musicians are hexrotors, whereas the flying bots that manipulated sound and light, and danced to both, at Cannes were quadrotors. Those quadrotors have performed before: they play the James Bond theme (not very well) here. The robots were originally developed by two alumni of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory -- electrical engineer Alex Kushleyev and mechanical engineer Daniel Mellinger -- who then formed KMel Robotics.
These aren't the first flying robots to play musical instruments. As we told you before, during a project to create leader-follower network topologies, a research team at Georgia Tech taught a swarm of small robots to play Beethoven's Fur Elise. Although that also wasn't much from a musical standpoint, those robots' ability to coordinate tightly in space and time was impressive. You can watch that video here.