Flying Robots That Play Tennis (and More) Skillfully

For all you James Cameron fans out there keeping an eye out in case Skynet becomes a reality, this is something you need to see.

Sure, it makes big headlines when robotics experts in Japan make a breakthrough with a robot that looks or walks like a human, but over at Flying Machine Arena, the focus is on utility.  Sure, right now their definition of utility is bouncing around tennis balls, but wow.  What are these things?

In short, what you’re seeing is a quad-rotor helicopter (a quadrocopter, if you will) that is so nimble, it’s a bit unsettling.  Called “Echo,” the computer-controlled vehicle is a work in progress by a Swiss team of engineers including Mark Müller, Sergei Lupashin and Raffaello D’Andrea.  Quadrocopters are capable of astonishing feats, turning on a dime and executing highly complex aerial maneuvres.

The secret behind their amazing speed is a revolutionary approach to controlled flight, which involves four rotors instead of the traditional two found on regular helicopters.  While the control scheme is highly twitchy and difficult for a human to manually control, link up these machines to a series of algorithms, and you’ve got a robot that is capable of great feats.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this video of Echo playing a Christmas carol on the piano, uploaded by the same team:

Of course, Switzerland isn’t the only country investigating the uses of quadrocopters.  A quick search of Youtube will net you a handful of videos with a high “gee whiz” factor, such as this demo released by the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania:

By all means, you could burn through a couple of hours enjoying these insect-like, speedy vehicles doing their thing, but just remember when they start asking about John Connor and wiping out humanity that you had fair warning.

For more breathtaking robotic feats, check out a couple more talented robots, one that this robot that can jump huge distances by emulating the common grasshopper, or another one this other robot that can solve a Rubik’s Cube faster than you can say “I for one welcome our robotic overlords.”

Via: PopSci