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Researchers Create Drones That Can Self-Organize In The Air

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File photo of a drone. (credit: Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a drone. (credit: Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – A team of researchers has created drones that can self-organize in the air.

The Hungarian researchers, led by Tamás Vicsek, a physicist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, observed the ten autonomous robots flying through the sky in formation or even following a leader without any central control.

The drones navigate using signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, that communicate their positions to one another via radio and create their own flight plans.  The aircraft is called quadcopters because they have four rotors.

“This is remarkable work,” Iain Couzin, who studies collective animal behavior at Princeton University, said to Nature. “It is the first outdoor demonstration of how biologically inspired rules can be used to create resilient yet dynamic flocks. [It suggests] we will be able to achieve large, coordinated robot flocks much sooner than many would have anticipated.”

Typically drones fly alone, but some research groups have created flocks of drones in the past.  However, Vicsek claims those attempts involved “cutting some corners” meaning that the aircrafts were restricted to indoor arenas or controlled by a computer.

Inspiration for the project came from a computer program called the Boids created in 1986 by Craig Reynolds who is a computer graphics expert now at the University of California Santa Cruz.  “Reynolds simulated virtual flying objects that move according to three rules — they match the average direction of their neighbours and move towards them, but keep a distance to avoid crowding,” according to Nature.

Vicsek and his team of researchers submitted their results with the drones as a presentation to the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.  The conference will take place in Chicago, Il. in September.

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