Actually, this building behavior is pretty complex. Another design team has done something similar. A group of five somewhat larger flying robot quadrotors assembled a six-meter tower made of 1,500 polystyrene foam blocks at France's FRAC Centre. (You can access a video here.)
The lack of technical information from the GRASP Lab may be because it is participating in the Scalable sWarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors (SWARMS) project, which has military-related goals and is associated with the Army Research Office and the Army Institute of Collaborative Biotechnology. SWARMS combines artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics, systems engineering, and biology to apply biologically inspired models of swarm behavior to large networked groups of autonomous vehicles, such as deploying them to carry out a predetermined mission and to respond as a group to high-level management commands. These robots could also be used in rescue missions after natural disasters.
The KMel Robotics Website consists of a single page and a photo of the quadrotors, but it promises more information. Along with the 5.5 million other viewers of the latest YouTube swarming video, I hope it comes soon.
Jack, most of the swarming and flying robots, along with a lot of other robot research, seem to be funded by the military, usually DARPA. The one I mentioned also appears to be aimed at military applications.
Warren, I hear you. The huge advances in semiconductor shrinks and system-on-chip have made processors and memory capable of such feats, as well as big reductions in sensor size and rise in abilities because of MEMS technology.
Jack, wait 'til you see the much smaller flying bug in an upcoming robot slideshow: it's about the size of a quarter. I think that one will fit under the door. Not only that, but these are self-assembling: shades of Crichton!
It's funny how we used to think about how much memory it would take for such a task and know it was totally unrealistic. Now, it is reality. We have the memory and processing power. Now we just have to work out the "bugs."
The robots use some kind of continuously adjusted mapping functions to locate themselves in space and explore unknown environments, as Kumar states in the TED talk video:
http://www.ted.com/talks/vijay_kumar_robots_that_fly_and_cooperate.html I don't know if that technology is based on SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), but I wouldn't be surprised. It's pretty popular for this type of application.
BTW, the robots in the story are the same robots from the U of PA GRASP Lab that play the James Bond theme in that video.
Hey, oldtimer8080, I did read PREY. It was very scary. In fact, I thought of that book when I saw the first video on these little robots, although I think they are also cool. I hadn't thought about the invasion of private property issues, good point. Your 'tude sounds like the 'tude of many of my neighbors up here in the mountains.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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