Quadrotors are getting smarter and more talented, but besides surveillance, their usefulness is a bit limited due to their size. Where one little helicopter fails, however, an assemblage of little helicopters might be able to succeed. The Distributed Flight Array is a project from the Institute of Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich that aims to combine a bunch of different little autonomous helicopters into a big glob of autonomous helicopters. Each helicopter unit has its own motor, computer, and sensors, and can wirelessly communicate with all the other units. In addition to flying, they also have little motorized wheels underneath to let them crawl around the ground.
The especially cool bit is that the helicopters can also autonomously dock with each other, which enables them to team up to do things like steal children.
There are all kinds of ways in which a distributed flight array could be useful. One of the most obvious is heavy lifting… Got something heavy? Call in a bunch of robots to combine and lift it. Got something heavier? Call in a bunch more. If one robot breaks, it’s not a big deal, since you can just swap in another one. The robots are even able to adapt on the fly to keep the entire array stable, so adding and removing individual robots is relatively straightforward. Still, getting the robots to reliably dock with each other in mid air is probably easier said than done… We’ll definite be looking forward to seeing some video of that in action.
[ DFA ]