Why, no, I am not one bit afraid of these swarming, flying robotic drones

Robotics developers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control have built autonomous robots that drive, dock with their peers on the ground, then fly into the air in coordinated swarms....all of this without human direction. In fact, the vehicles can drive around on the ground as individual, autonomous units, but "it is not until they assemble that they are able to fly," according to the researchers:

These modules are organized as distributed computational units with minimal sensory input. This is a complex system that is rich in dynamics with much room to explore various strategies of distributed estimation and control.
More about the little buggers here, on the researchers' project website.

Video: Distributed Flight Array (YouTube video from The Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control)

Report on the project here, at Wired Danger Room.

How it all works, in an infographic that follows...



  1. Wow. I would LOVE to see more info on the control methodology when the arrangement is so random. That is simply amazing.

    1. The flight control methodology seems to be “stand near the drone and catch it when it goes too high.” Also, the drones seen docking and prancing happily about in the first segment of the video are noticeably differently configured than the quadruply-docked units in the second segment, which makes me suspicious that they have linked all the stages in the design profile of the vehicle. It seems they are in the earlier stages of implementing their vision.

  2. I’m sure it’s just me. Outside of studying the design of your mesh network setup, what do these things do?

    I’ll grant you they are nifty, but they don’t seem to accomplish anything.

    1. I can just see you back in the stone age: “It’s all very nice this wheel thingy you’ve invented, rolls nicely downhill and all, but what’s the practical use of that? You’ll just have to push it uphill again. It doesn’t do anything!”

  3. Between these and the quadrotors from the other day I say we’re doomed…. All are doomed.

    No, seriously, with the crazy awesome control systems we’re creating these days… as soon as one of these things decides to kill you either due to a good decision by a strong AI or due to a faulty decision by a weak AI, you’re pretty much as good as dead. All of the ducking and weaving in movies like terminator are nice fiction, but with these control systems, everyone in the room is dead as soon as the system decides to open fire.

    My 2c.

  4. Nobody mentioned that Zurich is an ancient Raetic word for “goat horn”.

    I’ll just let the cryptic crossword crowd puzzle out that joke.

  5. Wow, those are pretty cool. It would be neat to see what practical uses are going to come out of this, but I just want to play with them.

    I also give it a day or so before someone tries it with LEGO.

  6. very cool, but are those ‘driving’ pairs not simply precessing due to the forces from the propeller? and the test-bed surface happens to be a nice size for 2 to precess?

    a lot of problem solving cleverness here.

  7. Imagine the Hilarity that would Ensue if a swarm of these things were to invade the Super Bowl.

    Bedecked with super ultrabright green LEDs

    Just hovering above the field.

    As if… waiting for a signal.

    As the LEDs changed slowly from green to red, almost as if counting down…

    Now, THAT would be a Super Bowl I’d actually watch.

    For as long as it lasted, that is.

    Why yes, I AM a sadistic SOB! Why do you ask?

  8. The soft piano music helped to push away my fear

    .. which came rushing right back when I misread it as The Feral Institute of Technology.

  9. Having used it already as a plot device, I think we should organize a pool on the date of the first drone attack in the continental United States.

  10. Yeah, but just wait until someone installs the software of life into these, and arms them, and then it would be a whole different true story.

    Once they are given life, and tasers, we are facing an all new paradigm.

    Brace yourselves, because solid-state lifeforms are coming, very quickly.

    Suddenly, such technology would not seem so cool and fascinating, once they are autonomously targeting, and swarming genetic lifeforms.

  11. I like the way they seem to be INVULNERABLE. Take out 30% of the elements before they strike, and the angry 70% will melt you with y-rays.

    Little buggers, indeed. Only a matter of time.

  12. I didn’t notice initially – at the end of the clip, they HIDE FROM THE RESEARCHERS above the fluo lights. Sentience.

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