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Self-Assembling Multi-Copter Demonstrates Networked Flight Control

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the here-comes-the-swarm dept.

Robotics 48

cylonlover writes "Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an amazing capability for small robots to self-assemble and take to the air as a multi-rotor helicopter. Maximilian Kriegleder and Raymond Oung worked with Professor Raffaello D'Andrea at his research lab to develop the small hexagonal pods that assemble into flying rafts. The true accomplishment of this research is that there is not one robot in control – each unit in itself decides what actions to take to keep the group in the air in what's known as Distributed Flight Array."

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Crichton is back baby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44350599)

Isn't this how Prey started out?

First Poop (-1, Troll)

The End Of Days (1243248) | about a year ago | (#44350619)

I don't have any particular reason to shit on this, since I think it's pretty cool, but I want to be a Slashdot hipster so I hate this and the people who made it are stupid and this is nothing new and I'm sure someone here made this back in 1996 but kept it quiet because they aren't an attention whore.

Re:First Poop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44350655)

I'm sure someone here made this back in 1996 but kept it quiet because they aren't an attention whore.

Or maybe if Slashdot stopped posting stale news then perhaps all those people could get a mention once in a while? Mind you, this statement is not related to this submission... for once.

Re:First Poop (2)

Thanshin (1188877) | about a year ago | (#44350815)

Or maybe if Slashdot stopped posting stale news then perhaps all those people could get a mention once in a while? Mind you, this statement is not related to this submission... for once.

So what you're saying is:
- Some news are old but not this one.
- Your post, written in this submission, is self-identified as old, as it actually belongs to an older submission.

Did you do it on purpose as a kind of allegory of your point?

Welcome! (5, Funny)

Pendletoncils (2834733) | about a year ago | (#44350663)

I for one, welcome our new self assembling robot overlords.

Re:Welcome! (1)

Tim12s (209786) | about a year ago | (#44351003)

Not so fast... No application to sharks

Re:Welcome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44351075)

This really should have been the first post. But number 2 ain't so bad. Well done, sir!

I too welcome our new robot overlords!

Re:Welcome! (1)

sahuxley (2617397) | about a year ago | (#44353883)

Networked flying robots? Insert obligatory "Skynet" reference...

Saturday morning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44350705)

Wonder-Team-Multi-Copter SELF ASSEMBLE!

Distributed Flight Array? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44350721)

Distributed Flight Array = DFA aka Death From Above

Game over, man!

Re:Distributed Flight Array? Really? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44351207)

Does seem an interesting way to deliver multiple explosive charges over a small area.

Re:Distributed Flight Array? Really? (1)

cangrejoinmortal (1315615) | about a year ago | (#44354653)

Why not pesticides, or irrigation or anything remotely constructive?

read it while you can (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44350731)

As the site is called "Gizmag" i urge all UK residents to read it while they still can. As I'm 100% certain that this will blocked under new anti porn laws that our Glorious Dictator will soon be installing.

It's a very misleading name, I couldn't find any Giz shots anywhere!

Re:read it while you can (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44351169)

As the site is called "Gizmag" i urge all UK residents to read it while they still can. As I'm 100% certain that this will blocked under new anti porn laws that our Glorious Dictator will soon be installing.

It's a very misleading name, I couldn't find any Giz shots anywhere!

what's giz? I've never ran into it on teh internets as a term for anything. jizz yeah.. but surely they can spell? some other reasons might put gizmag on the banlist though..

Re:read it while you can (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#44351477)

I think this is the first correction of spelling to ruin a pun that I've seen on Slashdot. Bravo. And, whoosh. Can I call you a "whoosh Nazi"?

Replicators! (2)

David Byte (2959509) | about a year ago | (#44350739)

I am pretty sure they stole the idea from Stargate!

Re:Replicators! (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#44350855)

That might explain why my doctor found a worm in my stomach with the x-ray this morning.

Re:Replicators! (1)

rullywowr (1831632) | about a year ago | (#44351671)

That might explain why my doctor found a worm in my stomach with the x-ray this morning.

Nah, that worm was probably from the Tequila.

Re:Replicators! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44354053)

I am pretty sure they stole the idea from Stargate!

No those ones couldn't fly. The little wings were juts for show.

So what happens when it things some thing is in it (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44350923)

So what happens when it things some thing is in it way? will it self sacrifice an unit to knock some thing down with out even thinking about what damage that can do to others?

energy and commands by cable (2)

Max_W (812974) | about a year ago | (#44351011)

It is very interesting in a sense that it may allow to supply energy to the drone by cable from the ground.

For example, to make imagery for cartography from the height of 1 or 2 kilometers. The problem of a battery is very short flying time. A cable from ,say, a car cigarette lighter socket is another story.

A single quadrocopter has not enough stability for a cable.

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about a year ago | (#44351049)

Well, I could see a separate copter unit with a whole lot of batteries. It would tend to become the center piece. A special slot would then allow it to recharge other copters as needed in a distributed power array. This copter unit probably doesn't even need propellers, though I'm unsure if the others could lift it easily. There are a lot of cool extensions to this, and it'll be interesting to see the practical applications.

Re:energy and commands by cable (3, Interesting)

Max_W (812974) | about a year ago | (#44351191)

I am an amateur pilot of a quadrocopter and a cartographer of www.osm.org . A battery is not the way to go. It lasts 10 - 12 minutes.

The same about wi-fi; it is 50 - 70 meters into the air and "signal is lost".

To send a satellite into the space for cartography costs millions. But a stable quadrocopter with a cable of 1 kilometer or at least 500 meters would allow to make aero-imagery suitable for cartography cheap and fast .

Balloons with helium are messy and unstable.

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44351909)

I'm not sure what kind of wire you have in mind, but that's almost 30kg for a 1km 12 gauge wire.
You'll probably want a + and -, so make that 60kg.
you might as well just add a couple of car batteries to it if it can lift that much.

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44352073)

Oh, and I forgot about the weight of insulation for the cables.

You might say lets use a thinner wire. We'll just put a high voltage on it, and down convert it at the top.
  Then you get into tensile strength issues and increasing resistance.
And then you've just added a bunch of weight for a power converter to your flying device.

I have to say it's not looking good for your cable idea.

Re:energy and commands by cable (4, Informative)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about a year ago | (#44351965)

But, can it fly with 1km of power cable hanging off it? My guess is about 125g / m, but even 1/5th that you can get 25g / m or 25kg of additional weight. That's as much as my 9yo son and I'm pretty sure the current rig couldn't lift him. Where are my numbers wrong or do you really think this is doable? I realize the flight time of current batteries is low, but there aren't many other options. Perhaps supplemented with solar energy or at worst a gas-power motor with an alternator.

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

Max_W (812974) | about a year ago | (#44352485)

Gaz power is OK, but too noisy, plus vibration.

Cable is heavy, but there will be no batteries' weight. And by cable we can send up unlimited amount of energy, say, from a running car lighter socket.

Cable would interfere with photography on a normal quadrocopter, but if it is assembled from several ones as it is shown on video then cable will be at the side.

What we need is to lift it into the air in a calm clear day and make aerial images of a city district. To do it via satellite costs millions or even billions in the long run, as after 2 - 3 years imagery is outdated.

But a system with a cable could be cheap and readily available. I mean not a free entertainment flying but lifting an HD camera high into the air in perfect weather for industrial imagery.

Re:energy and commands by cable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44361779)

What about a carrier system? A platform with a cable is lifted into the air by a group of copters. Once at altitude, other copters either on the platform or those helping to lift the platform can break away, do what they need to do and return to the platform for recharging. Would probably be expensive to build the system, but then its reusable and highly mobile.

Re:energy and commands by cable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44355149)

nuclear powered FTW

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | about a year ago | (#44361647)

But, can it fly with 1km of power cable hanging off it? My guess is about 125g / m, but even 1/5th that you can get 25g / m or 25kg of additional weight. That's as much as my 9yo son and I'm pretty sure the current rig couldn't lift him. Where are my numbers wrong or do you really think this is doable? I realize the flight time of current batteries is low, but there aren't many other options. Perhaps supplemented with solar energy or at worst a gas-power motor with an alternator.

Maybe a pure cable would be too heavy, but Edison showed us that an aerodynamic cable would work. His aerodynamic cable was a kite on a wire. Insulate and hang on tight.

Re:energy and commands by cable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44353217)

That would be fine if you surveying an open field. Even if you take into account the dead weight of the cable as well as the wind hitting the cable affecting inertia of the cable resulting in tugging the quadcopter around like a baloon anyway, you still have to take into account that even if you start in a city park and fly straight up you are not likely to get 1KM into the air 90 degrees to the start point. You are very unlikely to get even a 500m radius from the start point because of geographical features such as trees, buildings, streets with moving people/cars, etc. A cable might work fine for surveying a prarie or farms but I'm not sure how it would avoid getting caught along the way.

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44353471)

A turbine engine can also be a generator if you build it that way. Microturbines are becoming fairly efficient...

Re:energy and commands by cable (1)

Max_W (812974) | about a year ago | (#44353813)

Silent non-vibrating micro-turbine on a quadrocopter and we will live in a different world. But so far I have only a heavy inefficient battery as an energy source for my quadrocopter.

Re:energy and commands by cable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44367647)

Two words: fuel cells.

Re:energy and commands by cable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44389951)

For example, to make imagery for cartography from the height of 1 or 2 kilometers. The problem of a battery is very short flying time. A cable from ,say, a car cigarette lighter socket is another story.

A single quadrocopter has not enough stability for a cable.

Lasermotive has been demonstrating lightweight data and power transfer via laser power beaming through an optical fiber tether to a quadcopter. Not quite to those heights, but as you use better fiber (like those newer fancypants hollow fibers tuned to reduce loses), things get interesting...

Technology marches on (3, Insightful)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44351163)

For those who don't RTFA, I suggest you at least look at the 'summary' youtube video towards the bottom of the article, it's only a couple minutes long and is pretty awesome.

While this may not bare a commercial application in itself, it is still a big step forward in studying how robots can learn to react to each other as individuals while cooperating as a team. Again, while this implementation of the idea at hand may not directly have any obvious use other than research, it is that research and the basic premise behind it that will carry on into future applications we may not even understand yet. I know that there is a lot of research into autonomous cooperation between robots to achieve a goal, but this is stepping up the game.

As the years go by I am constantly fascinated as innovations and advancements in technology accelerate increasing rapidly. We are almost there, however, it has already become beyond impossible to understand just what 'there' will turn out to be. I think we'll know sooner than later.

the units talk to each other.. (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44351175)

so.. there's some central control. when they snap together they have comms going between. obviously, to make it fly any well at all.

Re:the units talk to each other.. (3, Interesting)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44351357)

No. Each component represents and individual sensor array and its own individual main computer. They work and communicate as a team. From the freakin article:

The individual vehicles of the Distributed Flight Array have fixed propellers that can lift them into the air, but the resulting flight is erratic and uncontrolled. Joined together, however, these relatively simple modules evolve into a sophisticated multi-propeller system capable of coordinated flight. The task of keeping the array in level flight is distributed across the network of vehicles. Vehicles exchange information and combine this information with their own sensor measurements to determine how much thrust is needed for the array to take-off and maintain level flight. If the array’s leveled flight is disturbed, each vehicle individually determines the amount of thrust required to correct for the disturbance based on its position in the array and the array’s motion.

Consider reading my above comment Technology marches on [slashdot.org] . It leads with a suggestion specifically addressing those who don't RTFA - take a look and follow the advice.

Today's SF theme: (1)

chthon (580889) | about a year ago | (#44351245)

Re:Today's SF theme: (1)

huiac (912723) | about a year ago | (#44357773)

My favourite will probably always be The Reproductive System by John Sladek.

I... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44351305)

for one, welcome our new self-assembling, flying overlords.

TIRED OF THESE CLICHES (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44351327)

"with no central leader and no command authority"

EXCEPT THE PERSON BUILDING AND PROGRAMMING THE ROBOTS.

"swarms of robots could enable a wide range of applications"

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN *COULD* ENABLE A WIDE RANGE OF APPLICATIONS

"there is no vulnerable central control unit"

ONCE AGAIN THE CENTRAL CONTROL UNIT IS THE PERSON DEPLOYING THE ROBOTS AND WHO HAS ROOT ACCESS TO THEM.

I'm sooooo very sick and tired of these cliche's about self-assembly and autonomy and "nature's wonderful organic spaghetti code." It's merely a transcended metaphor for socialism which remains permanently unfulfilled. There is no need to invent a strawman daydream for socialism. It already exists in every nation to varying degrees and in varying fields. Collectivizing our police forces will not improve them. See also The Tyranny of Structurelessness http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tyranny_of_Structurelessness

TUBGBIRL (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44351363)

chaanel, y+ou might failure, its corpse

Would this have implications for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44352525)

Would this have implications for networking real helicopters to lift loads too large for a single one to handle?

Obligatory - Legend of Voltron (1)

triffid_98 (899609) | about a year ago | (#44353047)

Keith: Ready to form Voltron! Activate interlocks! Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up; mega-thrusters are go!

Keith: Let's go, Voltron Force!

Keith: Form feet and legs; form arms and body; and I'll form the head!

Basically... (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year ago | (#44353545)

Someone watched the terminator movies and thought "self assembling robots that act as a team, have the ability to fly and determined to wipe out the human race? How can I get on the ground floor of this exciting new venture!"

Boring (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44353583)

I expected von-Neumann killer robots.

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