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Video: Swarming Robots Dazzle Cannes
7/25/2012

Flying in swarms and equipped with mirrors, 16 of the University of Pennsylvania's tiny flying quadrotor robots dazzled an audience at Cannes by manipulating sound and light and dancing to music. (Source: KMel Robotics)
Flying in swarms and equipped with mirrors, 16 of the University of Pennsylvania's tiny flying quadrotor robots dazzled an audience at Cannes by manipulating sound and light and dancing to music.
(Source: KMel Robotics)

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Beth Stackpole
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Fun entertainment
Beth Stackpole   7/25/2012 8:36:03 AM
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Interesting way to show off the capabilities of the robots, but I have to admit, it's hard for me to envision a role with real utility other than some good old entertainment. It reminded me of a scene straight out of the Blue Man Group. On a more serious note, these robots are obviously quite powerful and I imagine have the potential to be put to good use.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fun entertainment
Ann R. Thryft   7/25/2012 11:47:42 AM
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I agree, the music was totally over the top, but hey, that's show business, and the sponsoring company is an ad agency. I would think the KMel guys decided to participate either because they were asked to (after a video of the swarm playing the James Bond theme went viral) or because it looked like a great opportunity to demonstrate their tech, or both. Although KMel has said its technology is not aimed at military uses, the original U of Pa development was definitely done in that context. I can easily visualize military uses for swarming robots that can coordinate their movements so precisely.

Charles Murray
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Re: Fun entertainment
Charles Murray   7/25/2012 6:53:07 PM
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Admittedly, if I hadn't seen the earlier videos that you've posted, Ann, I'm not sure I would have understood what I was looking at in this rather dark video. Seeing the earlier video and then watching this, however, I understand how stunning this technology is. It's a testament to the incredible creativity of the engineers at the University of Pennsylvania, and also a testament to the engineers who made the sensors, particularly the MEMS gyroscopes.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Fun entertainment
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   7/25/2012 7:20:08 PM
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To Charles point, I thought similarly, that the dark video does not do justice to the incredible technology synchronization we are witnessing. 

These flying robots are alike a magical blend of Micromechanics, lightweight electronics and amazingly executed SW algorithms to produce this absolutely life-like performance.  Incredibly impressive. 

I'm speculating that the SW algorithms might actually Mic the music to process tones and loudness to assist in interpreting movements and rate of change in flight speeds-?  Literally dancing to the music-?

williamlweaver
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Re: Fun entertainment
williamlweaver   7/25/2012 8:43:31 PM
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God willing, I'm only about halfway through my career, but I've seen this pattern often enough to have a guess at what will happen next. The first time I saw it was in graduate school when our department received a huge grant to buy new personal computers. The much-respected professor in charge of the purchase insisted that the PCs be delivered with green-monochrome monitors rather than the much more expensive color CRTs. His reasoning was "Why the hell do we need color in science? Color screens are only for playing games and watching porn." As Data Visualization becomes more important to the discovery process, it is difficult to remember this attitude. 
 
Another example was evident at the February 2006 Adobe TED talk in which Jeff Han presented a futuristic multi-touch interface. Microsoft made some acquisitions and demonstrated its "Surface" concept soon after, but it wasn't until Apple launched its iPAD in April 2010 that multi-touch went mainstream.
 
The applications of autonomous SWARMS are following a similar pattern - first applications in Defense, then Entertainment, and next commercial applications. In a few short years autonomous SWARMS will be commonplace with all sorts of practical applications. It may be difficult to imagine how we got along without them.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fun entertainment
Ann R. Thryft   7/26/2012 2:05:49 PM
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Jim, interesting speculation about the algorithm. Carrying small mirrors and using different angles to reflect light is pretty obvious, but I admit I have no idea how they're controlling the music.

Diogenes
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Re: Fun entertainment
Diogenes   7/31/2012 12:49:21 AM
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In this case, I believe that the lights are controlled by the music.  In show biz, DMX controllers are used to remotely set On/Off/Intensity of lighting.  (A popular instance of this can be found in the YouTube videos of the Christmas light displays set to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's rendition of 'Carol of the Bells', etc., and DIY project plans are available to construct DMX controllers.)  It makes sense that the QRs are just flying a pattern to fixed pionts in space & time, with the appropriate mirror angle.  A more interesting variation, as suggested by the opening sequence, would be to have the QRs' altitude control the music pitch.  A LIDAR range value can be converted to a pitch value fairly simply. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fun entertainment
Ann R. Thryft   7/31/2012 12:43:41 PM
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Diogenes, thanks for that explanation: it makes sense that the lights are controlled by the music. But the text accompanying the video says the swarm manipulates the music. Any idea how it does that? I would have guessed the opposite to be true, i.e., that the music determined the robots' movements.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Fun entertainment
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   8/2/2012 12:38:28 PM
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Right, as I suggested, "Literally dancing to the Music" ,,,, I've also seen the Christmas light extravaganza choreographed to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and am thinking this may be similarly executed.  While I have no expertise on the specific means, I was thinking along the lines of a 25 year old technology derivative, being the LED bars responding an a Graphic Audio Equalizer. Sound pattern and intensity directly affecting light response.  I imagine it would be a rather direct exercise for one skilled in the art.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Fun entertainment
Ann R. Thryft   7/26/2012 2:03:19 PM
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Chuck, I know what you mean. Too bad this video isn't better quality. Of course, the whole jewel-like-lights-in-the-darkness effect is what they were after, but it could be sharper.

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