Quadcopter swarming modeled after pigeon formations

From NPR:

Can drones, the small unmanned aircraft that are at the forefront of fields from warfare to commercial delivery systems, fly without human intervention? A team of Hungarian researchers answers yes, having created 10 drones that self-organize as they move through the air.

The team based its creation on birds such as pigeons, which fly in tight bunches while making adjustments and decisions. They fitted quadcopters — drones with four rotors — with GPS, processors and radios that allow them to navigate in formation or while following a leader.

Like "gregarious animals" such as birds and fish, the flock of drones follows rules of collective motion, says Tamas Vicsek, a physicist who teaches at Budapest's Eötvös Loránd University. "We came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to understand how animals move together is to build robots — flying robots."

And like those animals, the drone flock was tested as it flew around in open fields, not in a controlled indoor test environment, as Nature's Ed Yong reports.

The drones can negotiate tricky paths, such as when their route becomes tightly confined. When that happens, some of them hover in place to wait their turn. And it's all done without a central computer or controlling device, the researchers say. Instead, they use "flocking algorithms," says Gabor Vasarhelyi, who led the robotics phase of the project.

The Hungarian team plans to demonstrate its drone-swarm research later this year in Chicago, at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. Until then, you can read its latest paper, titled "Outdoor flocking and formation flight with autonomous aerial robots." (You can see a video explaining the team's work at the bottom of this page; we had to put it there due to its persnickety display.)

"Drones are most commonly associated with war, terrorism, and cyberattacks, but drones can be used in more peaceful civil applications as well," Vasarhelyi says. "With a flock of drones, you can create a self-organized monitoring system from the air, or you can even deliver food or mail."

Here in the U.S., drones are expected to someday buzz around carrying out commercial tasks — but not before the Federal Aviation Administration issues new regulations governing such activity. As we've reported before, Amazon is developing a drone delivery system.

And last month, a Minnesota brewery was told to stop its tests that used drones to fly cartons of beer out to fishermen.

The flock of drones also reminded us of an amazing set of videos that were highlighted on PetaPixel last month, in which Rhode Island School of Design artist Dennis Hlynsky illustrated the flight paths of dozens of birds in urban settings.

Hlynsky used a video-editing technique that's similar to one increasingly used in sports TV to make the flying birds' images linger and create streaming patterns.

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Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 26, 2014 at 11:51pm

Somebody from the union of pigeons called and said it would never fly

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on February 27, 2014 at 5:48am

The video was very well produced and edited. A+

I am not sure what the overall application would be to having complete knowledge of how flocks of birds, fish, sheep, insects, etc apply their flocking/schooling dynamics. Even an individual pigeon is still far more autonomous than any UAV.

We even have evidence from WW2 (seen in Gary's pic above) that pigeon have a sense of art when it applies to photography. A study could be made where 1000 pigeons are typing (pecking) at the keyboards of 1000 netbooks to determine if they can write a novel. ;)

If we could crack the mystery of gravity, that would be far more applicable but, probably just as unemployable.

-=Doug

Comment by criro1999 on February 27, 2014 at 6:37pm

It reminds me this experiment from 2007...

Chinese scientists control live pigeon flights via brain electrodes

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/02/28/chinese-remotely-control-pi...

Comment by Cliff-E on February 27, 2014 at 7:00pm

we present the first decentralized multi-copter flock

(chuckles)

Looks like a follow-me routine that's broadcasted to 9 vehicles and with the power of a gumstix on each copter, you can construct a polygon, interpolate and calculate trajectories fairly accurately, with a good model of the flying area and good velocity control. Of course, as long as your sensor data is valid (aka GPS course and speed) and your controller meets its goals in a timely manner--where the L4ME's were a good choice. Cool nonetheless.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on February 27, 2014 at 8:33pm

One step closer to becoming self-aware.

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