A 'cloud' of experimental new drones are able to form themselves into a larger, multi-rotor vehicle, and fly as one.
The Distributed Flight Array project by ETH Zurich has successfully tested the system, which uses 3D-printed hexagonal rotors with magnets on their sides.
The robots are able to detect each other, form into bigger craft and then fly 'as one', after computing how their aerodynamics have changed.
"The individual vehicles of the Distributed Flight Array have fixed propellers that can lift them into the air, but the resulting flight is erratic and uncontrolled. Joined together, however, these relatively simple modules evolve into a sophisticated multi-propeller system capable of coordinated flight.
The task of keeping the array in level flight is distributed across the network of vehicles. Vehicles exchange information and combine this information with their own sensor measurements to determine how much thrust is needed for the array to take-off and maintain level flight. If the array's leveled flight is disturbed, each vehicle individually determines the amount of thrust required to correct for the disturbance based on its position in the array and the array's motion.