TED conferences are known for bringing some of the brightest, most insightful, leaders to the stage to discuss everything from cutting edge technology to social responsibility. Last week Vijay Kumar, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, showcased robotics by presenting a fleet of tiny flying robots that could maneuver agilely in close spaces or close to each other.
Invasion of the Flying Robots, by Richard Galant
It seemed that, at least for some in the audience, a bridge had been crossed into a new era of technology, one that could change the way we think about robots and their application to such fields as construction, shipping and responding to emergencies.
Kumar’s devices (he calls them “Autonomous Agile Aerial Robots”) cooperated on building simple structures and showed they were capable of entering a building for the first time and quickly constructing a map that would allow for assessment and response to a structural collapse or fire.
He held up one robot, designed by his students Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev, which weighs a little more than a tenth of a pound and is about 8 inches in diameter. The device has four rotors; when they spin at the same speed, the robot hovers. If you increase the speed, Kumar explained, the robot flies up. Spinning one rotor faster than the one opposite it causes the robot to tilt. It also can flip over multiple times without losing its ability to fly and can recover its stability when thrown into the air. [...]
When the robots are formed into a flotilla, they calculate (a hundred times a second) and maintain a safe distance between them. He showed a video of 20 robots flying in a variety of formations — and moving through obstacles — inches from each other without interfering with the stability of their neighbors.
It’s one thing to make a tiny robot — it’s another to make a tiny robot that can efficiently and accurately fulfill its function. To read the full article about Kumar and the other TED talks (many focusing on robotics) at CNN, click here. Which of the new technologies caught your eye? Where do you see these new technologies taking us?