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.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.