The GRASP Lab research team released no technical details in its latest announcement, which consists only of a very short video. The so-called nano quadrotors are shown performing some pretty amazing swarming behavior and flying in complex formations. The term "nano" is quite a stretch, since their wingspan appears to be about four or five inches. The GRASP Lab's Website says that its researchers are "building autonomous vehicles and robots, developing self-configuring humanoids, and making robot swarms a reality."
The video's voiceover states, "We developed a nano quadrotor capable of agile flight. Multiple vehicles can fly as a formation. We developed a method to transition between formations in 3D. The team can also navigate in environments with obstacles." Up to 20 quadrotors are shown flying in formation through and around various obstacles.
At the end of the video, they fly in a figure eight pattern. Near the end, the video tells us that the quadrotors were developed by KMel Robotics.
Researchers at the GRASP Lab have been working on the quadrotor design since at least 2010, when its first videos were released. In these videos, the most complex thing the quadrotors do is build tower-like cubic structures from modular parts. (You can watch them do that here.)
There's a lot more info in here--finally!--from the head of the GRASP Lab Vijay Kumar. Before this was posted last week, there was almost no info on how these little guys work, or even what their capabilities are.
Chuck, I agree, the apparently instantaneous communication is awesome. Jon, thanks for digging up that info from GRASP, which comes from a TED talk given after I filed this story:
http://www.ted.com/talks/vijay_kumar_robots_that_fly_and_cooperate.html There's quite a lot of detail in the TED talk. The swarming technology, such as the protocol created by one of their grad students, is especially interesting, as well as the control algorithms that help the quadrotors create maps and figure out how to navigate obstacles. So is the fact that GRASP is working on different sizes of drones, not just the little quadrotors. I think the transportation, building and post-disaster apps are the most interesting.
I've proposed to friends that these would be great for seeking out and eradicating the Python problem in Florida. Equiped with sensors to search out the Python's and a poison dart they could do quickly what would take us years, if not decades, of dedicated hard work.
I've also considered these for garden patrol, not to kill the offending insects, just to annoy them so they go somewhere else.
If these quadrotors can all lift on the same light-weight carbon fiber beam, they should be able to generate enough net lift to carry objects. I wonder how many it would take to rescue a human from a mid-stream car top. Lithium polymer batteries give amazing power to weight capability.
The 100-percent solar-powered Solar Impulse plane flies on a piloted, cross-country flight this summer over the US as a prelude to the longer, round-the-world flight by its successor aircraft planned for 2015.
GE Aviation expects to chop off about 25 percent of the total 3D printing time of metallic production components for its LEAP Turbofan engine, using in-process inspection. That's pretty amazing, considering how slow additive manufacturing (AM) build times usually are.
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