The Air Force has opened up three real-world, unclassified projects for collaboration on The Air Force Collaboratory. Technology enthusiasts are able to collaborate on “Mind of a Quadrotor”, which involves building a system that allows a quadrotor to navigate its surroundings with minimal human interaction. Technically speaking, a quadrotor refers to a multi-copter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors – classified as rotorcraft – and has lift generated by a set of revolving narrow-chord airfoils. Quadrotors have several advantages over similarly-sized aircraft. First, they don’t require mechanical linkages to vary the rotor blade pitch angle as they spin, simplifying the design and maintenance of the vehicle. Second, the use of four rotors allows each individual rotor to have a smaller diameter than the equivalent helicopter rotor, allowing them to possess less kinetic energy during flight, which reduces the damage caused should the rotors hit anything. Continue reading to see five of the most creative uses of quadrotors.

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5. Galaga

Galaga fans rejoice! In this demonstration, experiments performed with a team of nano quadrotors at the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania create a real-life version of the game. Each precision flying ‘bot is capable of perfectly balancing itself, but their true power is in their ability to fly in formations, and even adjust to new 3-dimensional patterns on the fly and avoid obstacles autonomously.

4. Back to the Future

Most quadrotors are designed to serve a specific purpose, this one is just plain cool. It’s basically a hand-crafted DeLorean that’s an amazingly accurate model of Doc Brown’s time machine from Back to the Future. Technically speaking, it boasts stabilization control (powered by MultiWii), a HobbyKing 12A BlueSeriesA speed A controller, and is powered by Turnigy 2204-14T engines.

3. TRON Quadrotor Light Show

In the future, all electronica music concerts pre-shows may include at least some type of robot, and this video shows why. KMel Robotics recently took a group of their flying quadrotor robots to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity to put on a stunning and psychedelic light show. These quadrotors come courtesy of KMel Robotics, the outfit founded by Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger, both graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab, a perennial PopSci favorite where robotics research is concerned.

2. Playing Catch

Robots, more specifically, Swiss quadrotor robots, may soon rule the world, and this video shows why – “researchers at ETH Zurich are teaching them to play catch.” Let’s just say that they’re quickly become self-aware and able to learn on their own. Using a net strung between three quadrotors, the researchers deployed algorithms that not only allow the bots to toss a ball both to themselves and to another team of hovering quadrotors, but also allow them to learn in realtime. When their accuracy fails them, the quadrotors learn from their mistake and adjust their trajectory on the next try. So after a series of failed tosses, the robots eventually compensate to get it right.

1. Fast as an Eagle

Unlike standard quadrotors , this one, developed by researchers at University of Pennsylvania, boasts an eagle-like claw that enables it to pick up objects at high speed. That’s not all, the team is hoping that the next version will be able to automatically adapt to environmental changes via an on-board camera. Inspired by how an eagle uses its talons to grab prey, the team crafted a three-fingered claw using 3D printing and attached it to a 4-inch long motorized arm. The quadrotor is able to use the system to pick up stationary objects flying at three meters (almost ten feet) per second.

Honorable Mention – Pizza Delivery

If you live in the UK and pre-pay for your pizza, having the DomiCopter deliver your pies just may be the way to go. In this video, you’ll see the drone flying two large pepperoni pizzas approximately 4-miles over the English countryside – through the city of Guildford, outside of London – in a 10-minute flight.

Bonus Video – Mind of a Quadrotor

Disclosure Statement

Thank you The Air Force Collaboratory and >Technorati for being sponsors of this article. All opinions expressed here are my own.