When we last heard from the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab, researchers there had provided video of a swarm of quadrotor robots, which they had programmed to perform some pretty impressive precision flying. Well, now the GRASP quadrotors are back, performing a feat that's certainly much more ... entertaining. In a video that was presented yesterday at the TED2012 conference in California, a group of the little guys are shown performing the James Bond theme on musical instruments.
The quadrotors performed in a room that was equipped with infrared lights and cameras. Reflectors on the struts of each robot reflected the light to the cameras, which allowed the system to determine each quadrotor's exact position within the room. That information was then relayed wirelessly back to the robots, to make them aware of their own location, and those of the other robots.
In order to perform the music, each quadrotor had been assigned a set of waypoints in three-dimensional space, each one of which they had to reach at a precise point in time. While those coordinates had been programmed in by human operators, it was up to each robot to determine how to reach its waypoints on time, without disturbing the other units.
While the video below is certainly fun to watch, the exercise performed in it is aimed at improving the quadrotors' performance in much more practical applications. By learning how to get jobs done while staying out of each others' way, the robots could be better able to perform duties such as surveying disaster sites, establishing wireless communications relays, or even building structures.