Airborne robot swarms are making complex moves (w/ video)

Feb 02, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

(PhysOrg.com) -- The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania this week released a video that shows their new look in GRASP Lab robotic flying devices. They are now showing flying devices with more complex behavior than before, in a fleet of flying devices that move in packs, navigate spaces with obstacles, flip over and retain position, and carry out formation flying,

The researchers have cut down these robotic creature-like to small size to what they call “nano-quadrotors.” The video shows them in action: not just engaged in formation flying, but also creating an impressive looking figure-eight pattern.

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The video says as much about the GRASP Lab as the flying machines, in that the GRASP Labs seems intent on raising the bar on what swarms can achieve. Unfortunately, the video released is scant on technical detail.

Still, the video is clear proof that the team developers, Alex Kushleyev, Daniel Mellinger, and Vijay Kumar, are able to showcase complex autonomous swarm behavior.

The objects, in the words of Engadget, are “four-bladed aerial ninjas.” The announcer notes that the team has created “nano quadrotors capable of agile flight.”

The key word is agile. Robotics enthusiasts blogging on their reactions to the video this week said they were impressed with the precision performance in formation flying, and, overall, in the swarm behavior of the nano quadrotors--aware of each other and of each individual’s place in space. Each “nano” device is self-sensing; each can position itself, keep its balance, and behave as a group member in carrying out maneuvers.

GRASP stands for General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory. Its work integrates computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering and involves students, research staff and faculty. GRASP’s nano-quadrotors are from the Lab’s “scalable sWarms of Autonomous Robots and Mobile Sensors” project. The project is working on new grouping skills in airborne robots. The researchers are trying to replicate swarming habits in nature. According to Vijay Kumar, a University of Pennsylvania professor and part of the team, explorations involve studying applications of biologically-inspired models of swarm behaviors to large networked groups of autonomously functioning vehicles.

Scenarios that use the flying devices are imagined in military and natural disaster settings.

“Can large numbers of autonomously functioning vehicles be reliably deployed in the form of a ‘swarm’ to carry out a prescribed mission and to respond as a group to high-level management commands? Can such a group successfully function in a potentially hostile environment, without a designated leader, with limited communications between its members, and/or with different and potentially dynamically changing “roles” for its members?”

These are the questions posed by the Lab. According to the SWARM project site, “Military missions will rely on large, networked groups of small vehicles and sensors operating in dynamic, resource-constrained, adversarial environments. Groups of this type will typically operate with little or no direct human supervision and will be very difficult, if not impossible, to efficiently manage or control by programming or by tele-operation. Management of such large groups will thus be extremely challenging and will require the application of new, yet-to-be-developed methods of communication, control, computation and sensing, specifically tailored to the command and control of large-scale, autonomously functioning vehicle groups.”

Explore further: Socially-assistive robots help kids with autism learn by providing personalized prompts

More information: www.swarms.org/

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User comments : 11

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Feb 02, 2012
I keep following the development from this lab. It never fails to amaze. Especially the video they posted a while back on collaborative building of complex structures using multiple quadcopters.
four-bladed aerial ninjas

"Manhacks" come to mind.
Noumenon
Feb 02, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PJS
1.5 / 5 (2) Feb 02, 2012
I knew Galaga was real
Xbw
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 02, 2012
WOW that was cool. I'm with antialias. Manhacks for sure.
fmfbrestel
2 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2012
just dont build nano versions of them with bio-molecular assembly and program them with the pred/prey program and then let them escape your clean room to evolve a solution to suvivability.

I hope the zombie-apocalypse arrives before the grey goo-apocalypse does.
HealingMindN
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 02, 2012
Yeah, but can they pollinate our flowers?
Shifty0x88
4 / 5 (1) Feb 02, 2012
OMG, those are amazing... I need 20 of them.... Hahah

I watched a video a while back (can't remember which one exactly), but they have come quite far from what I remember.

Argiod
1.8 / 5 (4) Feb 03, 2012
Now we can look forward to a time when our military will use these to deliver multiple explosives to an area for use against 'soft targets'; i.e., people. Now, when they say, "We got you surrounded...", you'd better be afraid... very afraid...

I wonder how much each of these things can carry?
Thomas_Langley
1 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2012
I wonder if similar coordinated devices with rocket motors instead of quadrotors could be used to deorbit space junk or to deflect a dangerous earthbound asteroid or comet. A vehicle (mothership) could be launched that would go near the space junk or asteroid/comet which would deploy the robots who would act in tandem to deflect the object. The mothership would have spare fuel so the robots could refuel.
antialias_physorg
2 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2012
Now we can look forward to a time when our military will use these
...
I wonder how much each of these things can carry?

One bullet (or greande) would be enough. Take away the gun from the soldier and give them an iPhone (for control) and one of these things. Ultimate assassin tool. Just wait till all sides (terrorist, national militaries, individual crazies ... pick up on this)

I wonder if similar coordinated devices with rocket motors instead of quadrotors could be used to deorbit space junk

No. The distances in space are huge. Now take huge and multiply it by HUGE. If you think you have a grasp on it I can assure you that you have not even begun to understand how big the space is out sattelites orbit in (or just even the ones in low orbit)
Rockets on contraptions that small would burn out in seconds.
Lugging around fuel to refuel them (or even move a 'mothership') is wildly unrealistic.
Cynical1
1 / 5 (2) Feb 06, 2012
I wonder if similar coordinated devices with rocket motors instead of quadrotors could be used to deorbit space junk

No. The distances in space are huge. Now take huge and multiply it by HUGE. If you think you have a grasp on it I can assure you that you have not even begun to understand how big the space is out sattelites orbit in (or just even the ones in low orbit)
Rockets on contraptions that small would burn out in seconds.
Lugging around fuel to refuel them (or even move a 'mothership') is wildly unrealistic.
While not practical at this time, the basic concept is sound. Might be worth developing the concept.
AmnonMichaelCohen
not rated yet Mar 07, 2012
VERY NICE ACCOMPLISHMENT - we can see it work and you hold the capability.
NOW, how do the proper investors and expected Major Clients, help its growth?
Wisdom @ PRE-PATENT Partnering on such project, is yet mine, but for Government Information, I did put the information @ http prepatent org