Video: Swarm of Tiny Quadcopters Do a Delicate Dance

The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania is a perennial PopSci favorite. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all seen robotic quadcopter drones before. But these tiny, so-called “nano quadrotors” are kind of blowing my mind right now. Dial the video below up to about 0:40 and you’ll see why.

We’ve written extensively about “swarming” robots before, but this is a serious swarm if we’ve ever seen one–right down to the high-pitched cacophony of rotors that sounds eerily like a hive of bees moving en masse. But it’s the way these nano quadrotors swarm–seemingly aware of each other and of each individual’s place in space–that’s truly fascinating.

Perhaps it’s somewhat hyperbolic, but seeing the ease and grace with which these things move in and out of formation, negotiating obstacles and ducking seamlessly between each other as they execute a figure eight really tickles the fanciful, sci-fi-friendly part of the brain. GRASP Lab creations have already shown us how quadcopters can work together to manipulate objects and even build structures together. The idea of looping more than a dozen of these things together–as we see in the video below–and putting them to work on complex projects makes this kind of precision performance feel very much like the future.