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Self-assembling multi-copter demonstrates networked flight control

Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an amazing capability for small robots to self-assemble and take to the air as a multi-rotor helicopter. Maximilian Kriegleder and Raymond Oung worked with Professor Raffaello D’Andrea at his research lab to develop the small hexagonal pods that assemble into flying rafts. The true accomplishment of this research is that there is not one robot in control – each unit in itself decides what actions to take to keep the group in the air in what's known as Distributed Flight Array.

How It Works

The sequence starts with an arbitrary group of robots on the ground. Each robot has three omnidirectional wheels that allow it to rotate and drive in any direction. The robots are programmed to seek a common spot, for example, a brightly lit area. As the robots approach one another, one robot spins in a circle while the other drives around it in a pirouette. Interlocking tabs on the outside of the robots make a physical connection, while infrared light beams carry data between the modules.

Once all the modules in the area are connected, there is a brief calibration of sensors while nothing is moving, and then the entire group start their propellers in unison and take to the sky. Half the modules need to have clockwise propeller rotation, while the other half rotate counterclockwise, in order to cancel out torque.

As the united band of robots hovers and climbs off the ground, each robot module is using inertial sensors to detect tilt and roll – exactly the same sensors found in an iPhone or iPad to detect tilt. Each of the modules determines how to correct for pitch (forward and back tilting) and roll (side to side tilting) by making small adjustments to the speed of its propeller. The data link on the infrared light beams helps the robots decide which direction and axis is which.

Once the raft of flying robots reaches a pre-determined altitude, as measured by another sensor, they break apart and each tumble to the ground. The individual units are not capable of independent flight due to torque from their single propeller. Once back on the ground, the whole dance starts again, with the robots again deciding on a center, forming a group, and assembling into a random shape.

The real heart of this work as a research project is solving the controls problem of flying an arbitrary shape of propeller units. It’s not just a standard shape like a ring or a cross that can fly, but any shape made of up any number of units.

This is the second type of flying robot unit that the group has created. The first model used magnets to hold the units together, and small electrical pins to allow communications. This second model has a more robust mechanical petal leaf latch between the robots and uses non-contact IR light beams for communications. Both robots had bodies created on 3D printers that build up plastic designs directly from CAD drawings.

Distributed control

Professor D’Andrea has several similar groundbreaking projects on his very impressive resume. He is one of the founders of Kiva Robotics, the distributed mobile robots that help make Amazon.com warehouses efficient. A whole fleet of small robots go out into the warehouse and find product on shelves and bring it, shelf and all, to pickers – humans – who place items into boxes. The robots then take the shelves back to the warehouse. For efficiency, the most picked items are placed closest to the packers, making the warehouse self-organized for speed.

A similar distributed control problem the group solved was a beautiful self-balancing cube. Each segment of this cube structure had its own independent control of its center of gravity, and the group could also be assembled in arbitrary shapes that would then balance themselves on a point.

Another fascinating construction is the Blind Juggler, a self-regulating, self-correcting mechanism that bounces a ball on a paddle – without any sensors or feedback at all. By careful design of the mechanics, the Blind Juggler automatically corrects the path of the ball to reduce error and keep the ball in the air. It’s an elegant solution to the problem without using any computers or robotics at all.

Nature has provided a blueprint for this area of research by way of the colony instincts that drive ants and bees to form such integrated and productive groups, with no central leader and no command authority. Each worker bee or soldier ant has its own programming, provided by nature and evolution, and each manages to do small tasks that contribute to the group as a whole building structures, finding food, and repairing damage done by storms and predators.

Applying this biologically-inspired solution to swarms of robots could enable a wide range of applications. Swarms of robots could be used to explore other planets, or search a large area for a missing person. When a larger payload needs to be lifted, groups of robots would combine to make a larger flying platform and when that job was done, disperse into smaller groups that can cover a larger area. The advantage of distributed control in these scenarios is that there is no vulnerable central control unit which, if taken out, could bring down the entire mission.

Watch the self-assembling robots take flight in the following video.

Source: http://www.gizmag.com/distributed-flight-array-self-assembling-multicopter/28380/

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Founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the participation of leading Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems.

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. 

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity's development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress "The Global Future 2045" is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind's evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.


Future prospects of "2045" Initiative for society


The emergence and widespread use of affordable android "avatars" controlled by a "brain-computer" interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.
Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.


Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.


Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.


This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.


Key elements of the project in the future

• International social movement
• social network immortal.me
• charitable foundation "Global Future 2045" (Foundation 2045)
• scientific research centre "Immortality"
• business incubator
• University of "Immortality"
• annual award for contribution to the realization of  the project of "Immortality”.

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