Tiny Musician Robots Could Benefit Soldiers

By Eric Beidel

The military has been ordering handheld robots by the hundreds. The gadgets come outfitted with sensors, are easy to carry and can be thrown into potentially dangerous environments, eliminating the need for troops to risk their lives. What more could the military want?

Try tiny autonomous robots that can fly in different formations and play musical instruments.

University of Pennsylvania researchers have been attracting attention for their work with nano-quadrotor robots. These small rotorcraft are seen in YouTube videos flying around the lab in figure-8 and other formations. One clip shows them hovering around various instruments and then dropping to strike a chord on the guitar or tap a cymbal in a rendition of the James Bond theme. In another video, the robots carry and position small beams to assemble a structure.

The robots can swarm, sense each other and form ad hoc teams for construction, surveying disasters and a variety of other applications. Small military units could use them to search buildings or caves for enemy fighters and booby traps. They also could employ them to help defend a perimeter, according to Army documents.

The quadrotors are outfitted with sensors and processors to fly indoors without the aid of GPS. The processor looks at what motions need to be executed and figures out what commands to send to the motors 600 times a second. The result can be that a certain rotor speeds up while another slows down to make the vehicle roll or pitch.

One robot weighs just one-tenth of a pound, measures 8 inches in diameter and consumes 15 watts of power.

Topics: Robotics

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