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Many technological advances have a scary side to them, pointing towards a future where humanity is in danger of being overrun by intelligent machines which no longer need us. If they ever decide they don’t want us around then we’re done for, quite frankly. In that nightmare scenario, explored in countless movies and TV shows over the years, I wouldn’t bet against quadrotors being the primary attack force.
Quadrotors are flying machines which have actually been around for 90 years or so, with manned designs first appearing in the 1920s. They have now transitioned to being used in UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) research. These multicopters feature four rotors, giving them increased agility and maneuverability. And researchers do like showing off what they’re capable of.
James Bond Theme
We start with probably the coolest robot video on the whole list, as a couple of engineers from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science cover the James Bond theme using robot quadrotors. These quadrotors operate autonomously, controlled by a computer pre-programmed with instructions. With keyboards, drums, a cymbal, and a guitar of sorts, this is like a one-man band without the man. And so it begins.
Another video from the University of Pennsylvania, this time showing a more serious side to the robot quadrotors. This is a demonstration of their capability to perform precise aggressive maneuvers, with flips and twists, flights through small angled spaces, and perching on pitched surfaces. This, more than any other video on the list, suggests how these robot quadrotors could be used for spying and reconnaissance.
This video combines two innovative technologies: robot quadrotors and Kinect, Microsoft’s full-body motion-sensing control system currently being used on the Xbox 360. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich has implemented a way of controlling a single robot quadrotor with hand gestures and limb movements via Kinect, and this is a brief demonstration of the system in operation.
I may be fearful of some of this emerging technology, but there’s as good a chance it’ll be used for nothing but good as there is of it being used for nothing but evil. It’s certainly a possibility. This video shows robot quadrotors building modular structures, and while these are small and magnetized building blocks, there is no reason bigger robot quadrotors couldn’t be used to construct major structures in the future.
If the quadrotor musicians didn’t impress you then how about quadrotor jugglers? This is a demonstration of the robot flying machines’ capability at keeping a ball in the air, either individually or co-operatively. There may not be an instant real-world use for this as in the previous video, but it’s still awesome to see the level of maneuverability these things possess, all carried out with speed and grace.
This video shows nano-robot quadrotors (smaller is somehow scarier) flying in formation and then transitioning from formation to 3D shapes. They then break formation to fly through an open window before regrouping on the other side. Finally they form a figure of eight and fly without hitting each other. Just imagine a swarm of these things flying at you in formation, the only thing that could make it worse would be the presence of a weapon…
Equipped With Machine Gun
Oh wait, now we have a big quadrotor with a machine gun attached to the bottom of it. We see it taking out several mannequins, some standing on the side of a hill, some sitting in their front room quietly enjoying dinner. And then the car gets blown up too. Thankfully this video from YouTube user FPS Russia is a fake, but it’s a convincing one. And you can bet your life someone somewhere is actually working on making this a reality.
The Building Process
Finally, just so you know robot quadrotors aren’t just for university researchers to mess around with, this video shows someone building one from kit form before taking it on its maiden flight. If you have several hundred dollars, a little engineering prowess, a lot of time on your hands, and a desire to fly one of these around your local park then there is no reason why you can’t do just that. I’ll stick to watching videos of others doing so.
Do quadrotors scare you as much as they scare me? Of course they’re perfectly cool while all the way they remain dumb, but when they grow some smarts they’re going to be slightly less cool. For now I’ll just carry on enjoying watching them flying in formation, juggling ping pong balls, and playing the James Bond theme. While they plot our ultimate downfall. Them and their Google Project Glass brethren.
Image Credit: Yutaka Tsutano