Robots that fly ... and cooperate | Vijay Kumar | Summary and Q&A

March 1, 2012
YouTube video player
Robots that fly ... and cooperate | Vijay Kumar


In this talk, the speaker discusses the development and applications of autonomous flying robots, showcasing their abilities and potential uses.

Install to Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Transcripts

Key Insights

  • 🔮 Building agile aerial robots presents challenges but also incredible opportunities for various applications.
  • 🔬 Autonomous flying robots like these can be used as first responders for intruder detection and other hazardous situations.
  • 🚁 These robots can be retrofitted with sensors and processors to fly indoors without GPS.
  • 🎮 By reducing the size of the robot, its agility increases due to the reduction in inertia.
  • 🤖 On-board processors analyze feedback from accelerometers and gyros to stabilize the robot and execute various motions.
  • 🌐 Transforming the multidimensional dynamics of the robot into a four-dimensional space allows for smooth and obstacle-avoiding minimum-snap trajectories.
  • 💭 Coordinating multiple small robots can be achieved through natural-like neighbor sensing and implicit coordination.
  • 💪 Cooperative robot formations can be used to increase payload-carrying capacity and perform tasks requiring strength.
  • 🏗️ Autonomous robots can be programmed to build structures using truss-like elements based on a blueprint design.
  • 🧭 Robots equipped with cameras and laser scanners can navigate and map environments without GPS by identifying and navigating with respect to features.
  • 🎵 Agile aerial robots can also be used for entertainment purposes, such as playing musical instruments in a completely autonomous manner.


Good morning. I'm here today to talk about autonomous flying beach balls. (Laughter) No, agile aerial robots like this one. I'd like to tell you a little bit about the challenges in building these, and some of the terrific opportunities for applying this technology. So these robots are related to unmanned aerial vehicles. However, the vehicles you ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What are the challenges in building agile aerial robots?

The challenges in building agile aerial robots include reducing the size and weight of the robots, developing efficient sensors and processors, and creating control algorithms that can handle the complex dynamics of the robots.

Q: What are the advantages of scaling down the size of robots?

Scaling down the size of robots makes them more agile. As the size decreases, the inertia of the robot reduces, allowing for quicker turns and more agile movements.

Q: What are some potential applications of these small robots?

These small robots have many potential applications. They can be used as first responders to search for intruders or detect leaks in buildings. They can also be used in construction to carry and assemble structures. Additionally, they can be used for transporting cargo or assessing damage in disaster-stricken areas.

Q: How do these small robots navigate without GPS?

These small robots navigate using sensors such as cameras and laser rangefinders. These sensors allow them to build a map of their environment and use the features in the map to navigate and estimate their position.

Q: How do the robots maintain formation and coordinate with each other?

The robots monitor the positions of their neighboring robots and use this information to maintain a desired separation between them. They calculate control commands based on this information, allowing them to fly in formation and adapt their formations based on obstacles.

Q: Can these robots perform complex tasks?

Yes, these robots are capable of performing complex tasks. They can execute circular trajectories, navigate through obstacles, and even pick up and carry objects cooperatively. They can also learn and combine different pieces of trajectory to accomplish difficult tasks.


In this video, the speaker discusses the development and application of autonomous flying robots. He explains the challenges in building these robots and highlights the opportunities for using this technology in various fields. The speaker also demonstrates how the robots work and discusses their agile nature when scaled down in size. He showcases different applications of these robots, such as using them for first responders, construction, cargo transportation, and assessing damage in disaster-stricken areas. The speaker also explains the complex dynamics and trajectories involved in autonomous flight and the need for decentralized coordination among multiple robots. Additionally, he discusses the use of sensors and mapping techniques for navigating in environments without GPS. The video concludes with a music video featuring autonomous robots playing musical instruments.

Questions & Answers

Q: How are these autonomous flying robots different from traditional unmanned aerial vehicles?

Unlike traditional unmanned aerial vehicles that are big, heavy, and operated by flight crews, these robots are small, agile, and autonomous. They can be bought off the shelf and are retrofitted with sensors and processors. They can fly indoors without the need for GPS.

Q: Can you explain how the robots achieve different motions and directions during flight?

The robots have four rotors, and their motions are controlled by varying the speed of these rotors. To hover, the rotors spin at the same speed. To fly up, the speed of each rotor is increased. Tilting the robot is achieved by spinning one rotor faster and the opposite rotor slower, causing the robot to roll. Pitching forward is achieved by increasing the speed of one rotor and decreasing the speed of the opposite one. Lastly, yawing about the vertical axis is done by spinning opposite pairs of rotors faster than the other pair.

Q: What advantage do these robots have when scaled down in size?

When the robots are scaled down, they naturally become more agile. This is because the inertia, which governs angular motion, scales down dramatically. The smaller the robot, the more quickly it can turn. This increased agility is particularly evident in videos showing the robots performing 360-degree flips and recovering from throws.

Q: What are some of the potential applications for these robots?

These robots have numerous applications. They can be used as first responders to enter buildings and search for intruders or detect biochemical and gaseous leaks. In construction, they can carry beams and columns and assist in assembling structures. They can also be used for cargo transportation and for assessing damage in collapsed buildings or mapping radiation levels in reactor buildings after natural disasters or accidents.

Q: How do the robots plan their trajectories and navigate without GPS?

The robots solve the problem of finding the best path from one point to another in their environment by planning minimum-snap trajectories. These trajectories minimize snap, which is the fifth derivative of position and leads to smooth and graceful motion. The robots create a map of their environment using sensors like cameras and laser rangefinders, and then estimate their position relative to features in the map. They navigate based on this local information and adjust their trajectories accordingly.

Q: How do the robots coordinate their movements when flying in formation?

The robots monitor the separation between each other and adjust their control commands to maintain acceptable levels of separation. This coordination is done in a decentralized manner, as coordinating all the robots centrally would be impractical. The robots base their actions on local information from their neighbors and don't rely on explicit communication. Anonymity is also maintained, meaning the robots don't need to know the identity of their neighbors while maintaining formation.

Q: Can the robots work together to carry objects cooperatively?

Yes, the robots can work cooperatively to carry objects and increase their strength. By teaming up with neighboring robots, they can double, triple, or quadruple their payload-carrying capacity. However, increasing the number of robots carrying the same object results in increased inertia and decreases agility.

Q: How do the robots autonomously build cubic structures from truss-like elements?

An algorithm developed by a graduate student guides the robots in autonomous construction. The algorithm instructs the robots on which part to pick up, when to do it, and where to place it. By combining different bits and pieces of trajectories, the robots can perform complex tasks like building structures. The construction process is autonomous, and the robots only require a blueprint of the desired design.

Q: How do the robots navigate in environments without GPS?

When there is no GPS, the robots use sensors like cameras and laser rangefinders to build a map of the environment. The map consists of features such as doorways, windows, furniture, and people. The robots navigate based on these features, estimating their position relative to them. The coordinate system is defined based on the robot's perspective and what it sees. The robots can also adapt their trajectories based on the information they gather from the environment.

Q: What is the significance of the music video that was shown?

The music video showcases the creativity and capabilities of the autonomous robots. Nine robots play six different instruments, demonstrating their autonomous nature and coordination. This highlights the potential for these robots to revolutionize various fields, including entertainment and K-12 education.


The speaker introduces the concept of autonomous flying robots, showcasing their agility, scalability, and versatility. These robots have the potential to be used in various applications such as first responders, construction, cargo transportation, and disaster assessment. The speaker emphasizes the importance of decentralized coordination and the ability of the robots to navigate and adapt to their environment. The future of these robots holds promising advancements in both practical and creative fields, including education and entertainment.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker discusses the challenges and opportunities of building autonomous flying robots, specifically small helicopters with sensors and processors.

  • These robots can be used in various applications such as first responders in buildings, construction, and transportation.

  • The robots are capable of performing complex maneuvers and flying in formation, with the ability to coordinate with each other without explicit communication.

Share This Summary 📚

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on:

Explore More Summaries from TED 📚

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on: