Quadcopters playing catch

The ETH Zurich quadcopter folks have added to their already impressive collection of videos of cooperative, autonomous quadcopters doing exciting things (previously) with this video of the adorable little gizmos throwing and catching balls together.

To toss the ball, the quadrocopters accelerate rapidly outward to stretch the net tight between them and launch the ball up. Notice in the video that the quadrocopters are then pulled forcefully inward by the tension in the elastic net, and must rapidly stabilize in order to avoid a collision. Once recovered, the quadrotors cooperatively position the net below the ball in order to catch it.

Because they are coupled to each other by the net, the quadrocopters experience complex forces that push the vehicles to the limits of their dynamic capabilities

Cooperative Quadrocopter Ball Throwing and Catching - IDSC - ETH Zurich (via JWZ)


  1. Extremely awesome, but as I’m sure comes up every time (I forget), these will probably only ever be used in practice to hurt people and possibly fight fires.

    1. Just like early electronic computing machines will only be used to practice warfare. For peet’s sake man. Have some optimism.

      1.  Once they have hunted us all down and eradicated the only ones left to play World of Warcraft will be the servers.

  2. Who needs a netgun when you have a fleet of tiny quadrotors that can chase down and capture any quarry?

    1. Just behind you in your blind spot above the mirror, while you’re tooling along with the window rolled down, listening to Dixie Chicks.   
      [Que SFX] Eeeeeeeee-ee …. Eeeeeeeee-ee …. Eee, eee, eee, eee
      [Que VFX] Blood splattered windshield

  3. When they learn to drop the nets planet-of-the-apes style, then we’ll be in trouble.

    Well, as long as they get bigger nets of course.

  4. Wow, some serious pessimism in the comments so far. I can easily think of a dozen life saving scenarios for a scaled up version of this.

    1. Pessimism?  When the US government uses drones to kill its own citizens, who have not been charged with any crimes?  When the Patriot Act is repealed, so is my pessimism.

    2. A modern bomb costs about the same as much as a modest home in some parts of the country: around $80,000.  Yet rather than purchase homes for undeserving American families, our government buys bombs to destroy the homes of undeserving foreign families.  I think that’s a pretty good reason to be pessimistic.

      1. Where do you live that you can get a modest home for $80K? That would get you a home with wheels here.

    1.  I’d like to see the next iteration lobbing shrink wrapped bales of $100s over the outstretched hands of war contractors.

  5. That’s awesome.

    Does anyone know how open source all this kind of quadcopter info is? Is it easy or hard (and how expensive) to buy your own quadcopter or two and start setting up some basic behaviors?

    (I ask this as a programmer and arduino enthusiast, but who rarely is able to finish all the dozens of projects he starts…)

    1. http://www.aeroquadstore.com/ features an overtly ‘OSS’ one. My impression is that, since virtually all the interesting complexity in quadcopters is in control, and off-the-shelf motors, propellers, and batteries are readily available, it is pretty easy to build or buy a quadcopter that will accept one of the arduino-based navigation boards more or less drop-in. 
      Because quadcopters aren’t wildly efficient, moving up the ladder in terms of endurance time or payload capacity will really start to cost you, though…

  6. Glad to know our future robot overlords are only working out trebuchet technology at this stage…

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