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Saturday, March 3, 2012

TED Video Agile Aerial Robots: 12D Robots Flying, Remember, Cooperate, Monitor and have Coordination created at GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab)

TED Video Talk/Demo of GRASP - General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab

"[Agile aerial] robots like this have many applications. You can send them inside buildings as first responders to look for intruders, maybe look for biochemical leaks … [or they] can be used for transporting cargo.” Vijay Kulmar.

Welcome to Autonomous Agile Aerial Robots (videos of  flying robots that can move like anything). Vijay Kumar, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, makes robots related to unmanned airplanes. But those are big and heavy and aren’t autonomous — they need humans to pilot them.

The robots he works with are tiny. He shows one built like a cross, with four rotors, each on an end of the cross pointed straight up. Independent control of the rotors, in all directions plus yaw, gives exquisite control.

The advantage of being small is tremendous: The smaller a robot, the quicker it can turn and maneuver. The result is amazing. He shows four videos of the robots doing flips, pirouettes, and rolls.

These robots are far more than novelties. They can be first responders in disasters. They can help with construction, or cooporate with other robots to move large objects. They can also do search and rescue — or mapping nuclear radiation levels after a nuclear accident.

Dynamics of the quadrotor is by mathematics in twelve-dimensional space (12D). But there is a mathematical trick to make it tractable — and it can be done in a fraction of a second, even with moving obstacles. The result is breathtaking — a flying robot dodging moving Hula hoops in a scene that, if it were in a movie we’d all assume it took months to plan and film, but it being done in real-time.

Kumar takes inspiration from nature in many ways. Tiny desert ants can move giant objects (say, a section of a fig) by grouping and moving the fig collectively. Kumar and his team have built programs for the quadrotor that mimic that behavior, and allows teams of them to build extraordinarily complex objects together.

But there’s one last application: a video of the autonomous robots that Kumar’s students Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev created playing music ~ The James Bond theme song.

The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, flying quadrotor robots move together in eerie formation, tightening themselves into perfect battalions, even filling in the gap when one of their own drops out. You might have seen viral videos of the quads zipping around the netting-draped GRASP Lab (they juggle! they fly through a hula hoop!). Vijay Kumar headed this lab from 1998-2004; he's now the Deputy Dean for Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, where he continues his work in robotics, blending computer science and mechanical engineering to create the next generation of robotic wonders.