Fascinating talk by Professor Vijay Kumar who explains what goes behind building flying robots that are able to function autonomously or in squads and their potential future use for construction, surveys and disaster response. The version using a Microsoft Kinect to find its bearings without GPS or pre-established points of reference was ingenious.
[...] Kumar's team has recently added a higher level of control that lets the robots swarm. In this case, there are added rules that are a bit like the ones that appear to govern bird flocks and fish schools -- stay a fixed distance from your neighbors, split from the one on the left under a specific set of conditions, etc. This level of control enabled a swarm of robots to execute a hypnotic figure-eight without any collisions. More practically, Kumar showed teams of robots lifting items that an individual copter couldn't handle, and a swarm constructing a simple structure from parts left sitting on a nearby table.
But the ultimate goal of this work only became obvious when Kumar showed how he had built a quadrotor that carried a stripped-down version of Microsoft's Kinect hardware. Instead of being limited to a carefully controlled environment, these robots could enter an unknown building and gradually map their surroundings. Feedback from the control computer would have the robot move and orient itself to fill in blank spaces on the map, maneuvering into new rooms and heading through the structure vertically as needed.
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