by: Kate Torgovnick

“Athletic” is a term we use to describe human beings. But could it also be used to describe a machine?

In a demo recorded yesterday in his robot lab at TEDGlobal 2013, systems engineer Raffaello D’Andrea shows us that the answer is yes. He demonstrates with quadcopters, mechanically simple flying robots with four propellers.  Their design and small size makes them agile — able to zip and roll through the air — but they are fairly unstable, and need positioning feedback.

By understanding the physics of how the quadcopters move, D’Andrea and his team create mathematical models and synthesize them into algorithms, “the magic that brings this research to life.” As the small audience ooohhs and ahhhhs, D’Andrea shows how clever algorithms, coupled with bits of reflective material read by an indoor positioning system, allow a quadcopter to perform physically impressive feats, like balancing a long pole and — even a glass of water — as it flies. Even if the copter is made to wobble.


By Press