Flying Robots Having A Catch

By Brent McKnight | 8 years ago

This is yet another step towards our inevitable doom as a species. Watch this trio of quadrocopters, small flying robots, basically playing a game of catch with themselves with a ball and an elastic net. A little kid who can amuse himself like this will grow up to be self-sufficient and independent. When robots get up to business like this, it’s only a matter of time before all that remains of the human race are small bands of rebels living under ground, engaged in a Terminator-style last stand for survival against the machines.

While this looks like a simple action, there are actually any number of complex forces at work. When the three copters pull apart, launching the ball into the air, the elasticity of the net pulls them back together and they must quickly compensate for the instability, as well as position themselves to catch the ball.

A number of algorithms come into play to govern how the robots act and react, including:

1) an optimality-based real-time trajectory-generation algorithm for the catching maneuver;

2) a time-varying trajectory-following control strategy to manage the forces on the individual vehicles that are induced by the net; and

3) learning algorithms that compensate for model inaccuracies when aiming the ball.

For all practical purposes, I have no idea what any of that means. Except that last part, that means they can learn. You see this in action in the video, as they make subtle adjustments to their positions and trajectories in order to improve the accuracy of their throws. Are we really that far from Skynet? It’s like they’re figuring out how to lob mortar shells at us.

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