UPenn's GRASP lab unleashes a swarm of Nano Quadrotors


February 1, 2012

The autonomous squadron made up of 20 quadrotor robots from KMel Robotics (Photo: Kmel Robotics)

The autonomous squadron made up of 20 quadrotor robots from KMel Robotics (Photo: Kmel Robotics)

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Remote-controlled quadrotor robots have been around for some time, but in the following video just released by a research team at the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab, science fiction edges much closer to science fact as a swarm of the Nano Quadrotors perform some astounding maneuvers.

Admittedly, use of the term "nano" may be stretching things a bit, but even so, the capable little robots provide an interesting glimpse into what the future may hold for surveillance, search and rescue, light construction and warfare.

GRASP robotics researchers Alex Kushleyev, Daniel Mellinger and Vijay Kumar teamed up with developer KMel Robotics to program teams of up to twenty agile-flight-capable quadrotors to fly in various complex formations. As the video shows, the quad squadron can fly in linear arrays, navigate around obstacles and otherwise exhibit what the GRASP team dubs complex autonomous swarm behavior.

A European team recently demonstrated similar "swarm" capabilities by using quadrotors to build a 6 meter (19.7 ft) polystyrene tower.

Watch the GRASP video below to see how real-world development in this area is no longer just a flight of fancy.

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic! All articles by Randolph Jonsson

Wow!! Would love to use this to record incidents like the ones going on in Tibet where we have no access, no press etc. PLUS, the added bonus of the shock of seeing these things flying in formation might incite the idea of alien intervention, which always has the potential to quell petty disputes among humans.


that\'s a trip. GOOD work guys these might be useful when we manage to kill off all of the bee\'s, we are going to need something to do pollination and with a little tweaking looks like you might have something amazing. it makes me feel better. once again nice work ! jay Florida

Jay Finke

Wow. The flips were cool, but the figure-8 maneuver was astounding!!!

Dan Stillings

No way! Watch the video!!!! Amazing

Mark Smith

Okay guys , I am now officially impressed with what you have done here. I can appreciate the amount of work that you have put into the project. Great work and astounding results. Good Job !!!


Jim Andrews

Extremely interesting - and the technological implications are immense. Not least with the future of your local annual air display - which may now move indoors on bad-weather flying days and be performed to scale...Remote-controlled livestock control is another option, or Emergency Rescue scenarios - with a swarm of IR-equipped \"seeker\" drones looking for casualties inside burning/smoke-filled/collapsing buildings. The downside is the \"Terminator\" effect - we all have to be on the lookout for \'the Rise of the Machines\'...

Nick Herbert

Border patrol could use this to fallow persons on interest who leave in separate directions or during a firefight keeping track of persons locations around the A.O.

Flipider Comm

Fantastic work. Swarm formation software is not just important for flying but for all forms of imdividual communal transport units from ground to water to air.

Can be applied to cars, tramways, boats, New personal transport vehicles and the Jetsons is finally here - the Skyway!!

Gavin Greaves

Wonderful work. How many of them do I need to carry me to work - autonomously?

Mark A

Why is \'Ride of the Valkyries\' suddenly running through my head?

Kim Holder

yea, Robert...coming to a border near us...or a window.....

Walt Stawicki

great work guys...

Prashanth Ar

How do the know their home position? There must be sensors nearby that supply the drones with positional information.

Tony Connelly
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