A video just released by the Aerospace Robotics and Control Laboratory at the University of Illinois shows just how close we are to having our own armies of flying robot minions. There, a group of ten small, highly maneuverable quadrotors was plucked from the store shelves and made to act as a squadron of obedient robotic servants.
Wearing a pair of gloves that remind us a bit of those worn by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, a student is able to control the entire squadron in either a single group, or to split it into two separate groups. The quadrotors can also fly in formation, but the real trick here is their ability to sense people in their midst.
Walking into the swarm can trigger a number of different human avoidance formations. The drones can split up, allowing you to step directly into their formation. They can also maintain their formation and act as a group to keep human intruders at bay. The swarm of quadrotors currently have to depend on an operator to tell them how to respond to both gesture control and proximity sensor input, but once they get just a bit smarter, swarms of brainy little flying 'bots could be dancing about your head, awaiting your orders.