Welcome to the future. In a February 2012 TED talk in Long Beach, California, University of Pennsylvania professor Vijay Kumar talks about agile aerial robots, a fascinating new kind of small, mobile hardware that can navigate indoor spaces with the agility of a hummingbird. He also discusses artificial intelligence systems that will enable these robots to do much more than simply impress us with their aerial acrobatics.
Kumar starts off with a demonstration of a small helicopter device with several different rotors that can be used to send the robot in specific trajectories by increasing and decreasing their respective speeds. This small flying robot weighs in at one-tenth of a pound, fits in the palm of the hand, and operates on as little as 15 watts of power. Adjustments are made 600 times per second to facilitate its lithe movements. Throughout the video, Kumar reveals more of these robots’ design, and how it allows them to smoothly carve out curved and circular trajectories and land on their feet in reaction to sudden changes such as being dropped out of a human hand.
Slides featuring specific equations demonstrate the physics involved, and Kumar mentions a number of possible applications for these innovative movers, including as first responders in emergencies with nuclear reactors, where the robots could safely gauge radiation levels in local areas. After discussing a multidimensional model that is the foundation of this robot design, Kumar provides a time lapse photography presentation showing a number of these robots cooperating to build physical structures.
The video ends with another amazing demonstration where over a dozen of these products play musical instruments including a drum and keyboard. This video provides a compelling example of how scientists come up with engineering solutions for more agile physical flight, while also revealing the possibilities for using these technologies in multiple industries. For anyone with an interest in using algorithms and computing to create solutions in a physical space, this detailed overview of innovative hardware/software hybrids is not to be missed.