WATCH: Swarm of Autonomous Robots Flies Complicated Formations

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Forget the Blue Angels — these nano quadrotors from the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Laboratory can fly in some pretty stunning formations. You might remember these robots from other YouTube videos where they’ve autonomously built structures and shown incredible dexterity by doing flips and darting through tiny windows.

Now, they’ve formed a swarm that can fly complicated patterns in three dimensions, avoid obstacles in its path and coordinate to fly a figure-eight.

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If you find the idea of a buzzing swarm of autonomous robots that look like escapees from Space Invaders disconcerting, too bad, because robot swarms are gaining in popularity among researchers.

Some, like the Kilobots from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, are used to study collective algorithms. Others, like the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network from Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne, are designed to create instant communication networks in disaster areas for rescue workers.

What’s stunning about GRASP Laboratory’s project is just how dexterous the swarm is. For a swarm to operate in the real world, it has to navigate a host of obstacles not found in a lab: wind, trees, birds, children with lawyers for parents. What’s more, any final model is bound to be expensive, meaning the military won’t be pleased if one of these things hits a power line.

So next time you hear a deafening buzzing sound coming from the sky, don’t worry: It’s not a swarm of bees coming for you, it’s just a swarm of unfeeling, autonomous robots.

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