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University researchers create networked flying robots that build complex structures

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Imagine a future where massive, flying robots assemble complex structures like skyscrapers or houses, with all the machines working as one, coordinated through a wireless network and custom algorithm.

Granted, a similar process already takes place today on a much smaller scale, albeit guided by human pilots.

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But with the potential for human error eliminated, construction times could be drastically reduced. Ultimately, a hyper-streamlined system could result in thousands of construction jobs being eliminated and a surge in urban sprawl.

Such an invention, properly scaled upward, would be simply revolutionary — and that radical vision, scarcely imagined even in science fiction, took its first step toward becoming a reality in 2011.

University of Pennsylvania PhD candidate Daniel Mellinger, in a project by the school’s GRASP Lab (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception), created a set of flying, networked robot builders that can quickly and accurately assemble structures made out of magnetic rods.

The only input required from a human equipped with such a system would be her choice of blueprint: the drones handle everything else.

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The robotic helicopters, equipped with a specialized grabbing mechanism for Mellinger’s latest demonstration, were shown last year to be dexterous enough to do mid-air flips, pass through windows, perch on vertical surfaces and swarm in predefined patterns.

While it was just a small-scale project, it was likely to go down as one of the first to truly show the potential of hive-mind robotic assistants.

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“I think this work is a first step in autonomous aerial robotic assembly,” Mellinger told Raw Story. “I think it is reasonable to say that in the near future we can have large-scale aerial robots autonomously building structures that are useful to humans.”

This video is from the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab, published Jan. 13, 2010.

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Image credit: ‘Back to the Future,’ 1985, copyright Universal Pictures.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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