A just-released video has hit the Internet that shows the skilled aerobatics of small flying-machines called nano quadrotors, capable of insect-like maneuverability in the air. They are the latest work of robotics researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. While someday these might be an air force asset, right now the Frisbee-sized vehicles are purely experimental.
The quadrotors are X-shaped with a central control unit--a fist-sized box housing their brains--at their center. They can remain stationary in flight through the use of four horizontally rotating blades. Even when tossed into the air, a quadrotor is able to reorient itself automatically into an upright position.
Developers Alex Kushleyev, Daniel Mellinger and Vijay Kumar at the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab posted the video of their brainchild on YouTube to show its various capabilities.
The machines move with disciplined precision in grid formation, breaking off into the smaller groups to move around obstacles and coming back together. They also display their agility and grace in a mesmerizing choreography of various flight patterns, including tracing a figure eight in mid-air.
For practical purposes, the quadrotors can be used for surveillance and search and rescue operations. It may be some time before they hit the toy stores.