Like some epic computer-generated movie scene, futuristic aircraft swarm around in synchronised fashion and perform impressive mid-air stunts.
But the spectacle is real and the robotic nano quadrotors – despite being not much bigger than your hand – could one day revolutionise warfare.
The miniature helicopters, which have four propellers, are still in their infancy in development but have been extensively trialled in carrying items and manoeuvre through small gaps.
Intelligent: The nano quadrotors, developed by a University of Pennsylvania team, perform a display
Tricky: The mini choppers, each fitted with four propellers, fly through the window and maintain the formation
It is hoped they may be useful in locations where construction is hazardous for humans, such as in war zones, oil rigs or on extremely tall skyscrapers.
Now, a team from the University of Pennsylvania, which is well known for its quadrotor research, have programmed the mini choppers to carry out autonomous swarm behaviour.
This means they can fly like birds or bees, moving en masse in a synchronised fashion in one direction or another without be programmed to perform individual manoeuvres.
A video, posted on the web by Alex Kushleyev, Daniel Mellinger, and Vijay Kumar of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception, demonstrates this feat.
Up to 20 nano quadrotors swarm around in multiple formations that echo the Red Arrows – except that these craft can get much closer to each other.
Figure of eight: The quadrotors loop around without bumping into each other
Very clever: A nano quadrotor close up
The swarm is sufficiently intelligent that it can take into consideration obstacles while on a formation flight.
The video shows how each autonomous quadrotor manages to hold its position perfectly during movement while gracefully transitioning between different 3D shapes.
At one point they are able shrink the formation, fly through a window and produce the exact same size shape on the other side.
Trickier yet, they can perform a figure of eight with each craft looping around without bumping into each other.
Whether or not the craft can be used to perform functions in the outside world remains to be seen.
But, although little has been revealed about their technology, robotic nano quadrotors are clearly off to a flying star.
Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.
Great toy, wonder when they’ll be available in the gadget shop?
– almost sane, nowhere in particular UK, 03/2/2012 12:27
DM, do you spend half your lives trawling through LiveLeak.com?
– Zidznot, Telford, 03/2/2012 12:25
Why am I suddenly hearing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’? 😉
– Space Monkey, Planet Starbucks, 03/2/2012 12:16
Ah! how cute! Mini versions of what was used to hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre towers!!!
– Mags, Northern Ireland, 03/2/2012 11:51
Wont the batteries only last for an hour!!!
– Morpeth Andy, Morpeth, 03/2/2012 11:42
Wont the batteries only last for an hour!!!
– Morpeth Andy, Morpeth, 03/2/2012 11:41
While we’re playing with our nano quadrotors, China’s got a blue-eyed kid with cat-like night vision. Imagine soldiers with night vision, enhanced hearing, bulletproof skin… Wars in the future will be fought by genetically engineered super soldiers. They’ll be faster, stronger… Human bioweapons, not weighed down by heavy body armor and tactical equipment. Your worst paranormal nightmare on two legs. Go take a look at that kid. – Branda, AZ, USA, 02/2/2012 23:28 What is wrong with you? You just copy and paste the same comment onto different articles, do you simply not have the brain power to construct a unique response to multiple articles? I assume not as you are talking about warfare…sigh…
– Anon, UK, 03/2/2012 11:34
Also attack our troops
– Joe, Dagenham, 03/2/2012 11:27
These developments have terrible implications.
– Dr Melvin T Gray, huddersfield uk, 03/2/2012 10:52
– PK, Camden, 03/2/2012 09:55
[[[ *** RESPONSE *** ]]]
Hey idiot boffins, read up on ‘grey goo’ and write that convention that ensures weapon drones never reach smaller than handgun size (in fact they should never have allowed projectile weapons to begin with), and electronics are disallowed from frying brains as well as biological genetic or radioactive weapons used. There is no honour or dignity or meaning when it’s all about mass producing drones to swamp your opponent to to become a hegemon. If you ask me, I believe that Earth may have had more than 1 era of civilisation, with the grey goo scenario amoeba survivers evolving into humanity in the form it is today. Are single celled organisms some kind of machine that evolved into humanity AFTER those Atlantean giants and minotaurs, other fantastic creatures which were ‘natural’? Grey goo~wooo0ooo0000OOOO000oooo . . . it will be far scarier than ghosties . . .