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Creepy-Cool Video: Tiny UAVs Flying in Formation

by John Reed on February 1, 2012

In case you guys haven’t seen this video, it’s awesome. It shows a swarm of tiny quadrotor UAVs flying in numerous formations, performing figure eights with each other and even flying around obstacles. Talk about sense and avoid!

The little drones (monsters?) were developed and programmed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) lab. The nano-copters were built by KMel robotics, according to the video.

Can’t you imagine a swarm of tiny drones like these being launched at an enemy by a small infantry unit? They could be carried in a backpack, controlled by a laptop and sent to spy on a nearby enemy and even explode on any targets they spot, similar to what the Army’s Switchblade UAV can do now. They’d be hard to spot until they were on top of the target and given their size and numbers, they’d be damn tough to defend against.

Scary to think about; almost as scary as this.

Click through  the jump to watch the video.

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{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike February 1, 2012 at 1:55 pm

that's "…further potential applications…"


Uncle Bill February 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Joining the Luddite contingent I don't see any use whatsoever for this technology, it won't do anything existing tech won't do and it's just a conspiracy to bilk the taxpayer with ever more expensive stuff. I could do more damage with an M1 Garand than a million of these stupid things. :)


UAVgeek February 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I guess it goes without saying you have no imagination.


Uncle Bill February 1, 2012 at 7:56 pm

But what about a sense of humor?


blight February 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Bone club hurts like a wood stick, why innovate?


Ben February 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Guys, don't feed this troll.


Uncle Bill February 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Guys, don't feed Ben. He is, like so many of you, unable to take a joke. I guess my humor was a little too subtle for this group. Hasn't anybody noticed that with each new advancement in tech there is always someone here claiming it serves no good purpose?

Lighten up.

Troll, sheesh!


crackedlenses February 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Please, in the future mark you post as sarcasm or a joke. We appreciate jokes, but have trouble distinguishing from jokesters and loonies. That will help eliminate confusion in the future…..


john kizirian February 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm

they could bring down an F22. or an F18. or an F35


derp August 4, 2012 at 2:43 am

probably not, jet fighters are considerably faster and fly considerably higher than these


MadMarine53 June 12, 2012 at 3:12 am

You know Uncle Bill when I see swell headed comments like this I just gotta respond. So.. then uncle…let's just see you do what you say you can do..you ol' crack shot..Go get that super WW2 hi-tech weapon you have and get ready, like you really could, for the first wave of 100,000 of these little ultimate warriors that I'm gonna send screamin' right at your face and hands to start with. And 60 secs later you'll get the chance to deal with the next 100,000. I'm telling ya my simple battle plan so you can't say you'didn't know. Now you let me know when your ready ok?…. Get real hot shot. With a million of these I would destroy you and a whole company of like minded opponets in minutes…that's right I said minutes…if you could last that long..And save replying to this..you've already done enough to show your not battle minded in any sence..oh except maybe on a Neanderthal level. Stick to sticks and clubs 100,000 yrs ago and you might last long enough for someone today to find your footprints at the La Brea Tar Pits.


Ning August 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm

It was a joke, he said so.


derp August 4, 2012 at 2:42 am

You do realize that they each pack a lethal explosive charge, and that they can fly through otherwise inaccessible spaces with ease, right? An example of where these would be absolutely devastating as opposed to you with any gun would be sending a swarm into air ducts of a bunker or occupied building, then detonating them inside the building. Really though, the possibilities are endless.


nobody March 20, 2014 at 6:14 am

Bullshit. Imagine near-future nanobots flying as a swarm, hiding, being intelligent, cooperating, killing and of the size of fruit fly, smaller or even small as bacterias or fungi. Yeah yeah – you are a great brave man using armors, flames, bullets, gases and… I tell you – real bullshit! What about todays diseases???? What about biological weapons???? And whats a difference – biological or artificial machines? None! These bots are only the beginning (maybe a beginning of the end – our end – humans = anachronism, thats all).


Andrew February 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm

If they can carry the explosive content of a modern 25mm/40mm grenade, then no, you can't.


UAVgeek February 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

any 200-300 watt (hovering power) quad can easily carry a few 40mm grenades (1/2 lb each)


aaaa February 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm

put some plasic explosive and it would be devistating to anyone in the area of the lil bug.


tiger February 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

All they need to do is fly into a jet intake……….


Mike February 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Just the immediate possibilities left me in awe…the further potenial applications scare me sh*tless!


seascape February 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Hasn't Harvard produced nanobots the size of bees? Outside of the military, nanobots/larger drones are of most interest to DHS. In 2009 billions were poured into the production of these little guys for the written reason of public surveillance and border control. In the NDAA these are allocated for in times of civil unrest, and I believe there is an executive order relating to the use of these on US populations in times of national emergencies, for purposes of surveillance and info gathering. The TSA is at present arguing for the open use of these bots over US cities and Western states for purposes of reducing drug trafficking.


Andy S. June 19, 2013 at 1:37 am

I wonder if they are vulnerable to EMP, artificial spider webs or silly string? More prepping. oh, and I'd better get more bird shot. Scary to think of enemies, especially on our turf that might develope these nanobots.


YourNameHere February 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Need about a million of these with 5lbs of C4 strapped to bottom. Forget about mortars and artillery, Seek and destroy drones should be developed aggressively.


Jeff February 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I'm thinking more like a cluster munition that would open before impact and scatter over a field a bunch of these types of drones that would then seek targets. Even if they only had a small explosive capable of taking out individual enemies, that'd still be worthwhile. A smart cluster bomb.


Terence February 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm

This is huge! The benefits of these babies takes surveillance and even Special Forces capabilities to a whole new level.


mpower6428 February 2, 2012 at 6:52 am

except they sound like a swarm of bionic meth hornets.


tiger February 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm

A UAV a SEAL can carry in a backpack. You could fly through a open window and scope out a bulding. A SWAT team could have eyes on a hostage taker. You could search for bad guys with a Flir camera. You could bug a office without a Watergate break in. Just fly near a window & hover. The guys on "Cheaters" can get airborne shots of cheating wives.


bob February 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm

everything shown in the video only works within that room in which there are multiple beacons posted all around. In other words none of what was shown would work outside of that particular, specially outfitted room. This will be possible in the future but what is shown in the video is misleeding.


OK3wye February 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

If you learned to spell you might have more credibility.


elmondohummus February 3, 2012 at 10:32 am

Yes, that's true, but it's only a proof of concept. It shows that if you can establish valid references to follow, the drones can do the formations indicated.

Who's to say that this can't be replicated with slightly larger drones using GPS out in the real world? I see no real obstacles in the way, only the standard engineering work to get it done. There's no problem at the conceptual level, only the Devil's-in-the-Details issues that engineers are more than competent to tackle.

Saying that this is restricted to the room it occurred in is a bad argument. Of course this level is, but nothing *restricts* it to such an environment.


bob February 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

that's why I said

"This will be possible in the future but what is shown in the video is misleeding."

the people that actually carried out this project said themselves that it was very restricted to that specific room because the sensors give very high accuracy/resolution information on the orientation/locations of each of the drones. The drones actually have cameras on them that track many light beacons set around the room, much like how a Wii controller works.


Sanem February 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

the sound is extremely scary, reminds me of a swarm of kiler bees :s

equiped with a grenade would make them extremely useful in ground combat, they can go up, spot a target and dive into it, or fly into buildings to clear out rooms

the hive mind thing would be most useful on UCAVs, in air combat. they'd fly extremely complex but coordinated patterns, constantly surrounding enemies and setting up cross fires, as you would in chess, performing maneuvers a human would not survive


Sanem February 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm

they said they could make little drones fly patterns, they succeeded, how is that misleeding?

if you want misleeding videos, look for the F-35 or the LCS, they cost a LOT more and perform a LOT less


bob February 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

it's obviously misleading (thank you okwye) because everyone else that's commenting is very excited about it. The stuff shown in this video (multiple robots being commanded around by a centralized computer with total knowledge of the coordinates of each robot via an array of room mounted sensors) has been done for over a decade. It's nevertheless exciting at first glance because they do not mention in the video that none of this would work outside of that unique, sensor equipped room.


Lance February 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Seen this on Flashpoint the other night quite a cute mini UAV.


JackBlack February 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Minority report in the making, next spider armed robots.


KSki February 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm

That in no was a faked video. That is one of the coolest yet scariest things I've scene. Next they' ll all carry small weapons and go Terminator on us.


Jazz ism February 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Save weight and control by tablet is just as capable and more mobile.


Jazz ism February 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Why a laptop? Control by tablet would save weight to add more mobility and be just as capable.


nraddin February 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm

The CPU, radio power and battery life in a laptop are significantly higher power than in a tablet. It's just a prototype, I am sure that as this develops into usable product they will design better control interfaces for them.


John February 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Wow! A small suicide drone with a small shaped charge warhead that can land on the head of an individual and blow itself up! It might even penetrate through helmets and into the brain with a small delayed charge. Mini RPG's to the skull of any enemy! What a concept. At least that is my idea of one of its useful applications.


dddd February 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Haha that's what I have been thinking for a long time. I think this is clearly where warfare is headed. Possible obstacles: handling in high winds, power sources, bandwidth limits, autonomy…


Snake Oil Baron February 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I can't see the video but I've seen things like these recently is this the ones that construct a sculpture by stacking bricks, one at a time in a cooperative fashion?

Position a large number of these on rooftops in an enemy capital with explosive charges. In the hours before an invasion you have them deliver their packages to electrical transmission towers, certain bridges, command and control locations… The bigger the target the more packages you send it via pre selected waypoints. After the chaos starts and they are out of bombs, have them loiter around certain regions like and buzz anyone going into or out of government buildings. They won't know for certain that they are unarmed and it will at the very least be annoying–have them play fingernail on blackboard noise while at it. None of these are certain to be useful or practical tasks but they are just a few things one could imagine small collaborative UAVs after thinking about it for a few seconds.


Snake Oil Baron February 1, 2012 at 10:11 pm

OMG, I just saw the video. Pretty fantastic. I've seen one quadroter project where the drones can flip sideways and stick to a wall. If they were designed to drop of anything from sticky bombs to countless forms of electronics, there are all sorts of ways one could alter a theatre of operations to favor you.


Black Owl February 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Neat… now lets put a small caliber weapon on it, a camera, a tiny explosive or use teams of them with various combinations of these. I sincerely hope no one ever decides to invent an AI with a strong survival program.


TLAM Strike February 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Someone get me a fly swatter…


kim February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am

Or a net.


crackedlenses February 2, 2012 at 11:09 am

We're gonna need a bigger fly swatter……


Bee February 13, 2012 at 11:24 am



amos February 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm

I keep thinking about the statement: If you can see the enemy, then they can see you.
Does anyone think we're the only ones smart enough to develop these things?


Snake Oil Baron February 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I bet we (the West and democratic Asian states like South Korea) can afford to make more of them, ones of better quality and defensive counter measures better than our enemies can.


kim February 2, 2012 at 7:06 am

Only for a while. An enemy – even one as relatively unsophistcated as Taliban warriors – will eventually be able to use this tech too.


marrs101 February 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Using them and building them in large numbers are two different things. Our kids growing up using rc helos, simulators, programming LEGO robots for the fun of it. That is our Next Generation. What is theirs?


tiger February 2, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Which is why most in US enginering schools are not from the USA


Rob February 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

easy to do computer organized maneuvers indoors. Try outside where there are naturally occurring swirls of wind & currents. Something tells me in first rain you would see sparks and down they fall.


Snake Oil Baron February 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Remote control and autonomous flying models and UAVs currently function in real world environments. While these specific devices may not be optimized for that, I see no reason why they couldn't be. Not long ago, the idea of a self piloting helicopter would have been insane but now that they have been around for a few years they are being taught to land on ships at sea.


Nathan February 1, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Got it in one. If you've ever played with those tiny remote controlled helicopters, you know that they can only really be used indoors. The smallest breeze sends makes them almost impossible to control.

I'm sure being quads they are a little more stable – but they'll need additional computing power to react quickly enough to the ever changing environment.


KnufreDoy February 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm

If they make em a little bigger with some weight, you know the motors are a shit ton better that any hobby motor, with a sweet processor on board to make corrections these things could be deadly in just regular 5 to 10 knot winds. Or in the calm of the night??? Dang Terminator Times are Comin…


Jacob February 2, 2012 at 2:25 am

I was going to say something to the extent of "Skynet is coming!!" but then I watched the video and it didn't seem quite so funny.


elmondohummus February 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

You're not the only one. (*Shudders*).


klub February 2, 2012 at 3:44 am

A swarm of these should be sufficient to protect a helicopter from RPG attack during takeoff and landing. One drone could quickly move into the rocket's path and sacrifice itself.


Sanem February 2, 2012 at 5:07 am

"Minority report in the making, next spider armed robots."

believe it or not, a lot of the technology in Minority Report is based on actual scienctific expectations, so yes, spider bots are coming…

but forget about them and PreCrime, that's kid's stuff compared to AI and nanotech and whatever comes after that, and I'm talking about 2 decades from now


srby February 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

They seem to be about the size of a skeet. Where's my shotgun?


RBlake February 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm

This seemed like a sporting clay moment! I agree


ziv February 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm

On report or simul, your choice, but it only counts if you knock it down, not push it around!


Robert February 2, 2012 at 8:37 am






Prodozul February 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm



Robert February 2, 2012 at 8:42 am








morty February 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

There around a million dollars each Why would we blow them up when we could rig them with some thing like a pistol and save ourselves some money


KnufreDoy February 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Thats just research funds and all calculated in. Parts to make this little drone are more like a grand or two at the most due the complex motors they use and other hardware. No doubt the Gov would screw up the actual production, its what they do best.


PJD February 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

I can imagine how badly the US military and governemnt would screw up a program to produce these things. They'd probably end up costing $250 million each and be limited to a production run of 20 thanks to numerous glaring faults.. Think B-2 bomber, F-22 and F-35 style disasters but on a smaller scale.


morty February 2, 2012 at 10:58 am

If You haven't herd of the Terminator theory You should check it out, I'm not saying It could happen any time soon but its cool


KnufreDoy February 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

No not at anytime yo, but it does seem inevitable. If something like that is possible it will be sometime before a computer collective can take over all out automated machines to coordinate the extinction of the human race. Maybe in a couple of hundred years or so.. If the sun dun blow up or we get slammed with a meteor..


Raraavis February 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

Will they be programed to balk at orders to kill it's own citizens if given by a corrupt government. No peaceful protest movement stands a chance against robot soldiers.


Lightbringer February 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

Imagine four foot wide versions of these things. Hundreds of them. Dropped from helicoptors. Armed with assault rifles. Swarming, acting autonomously, attacking anything on the ground that's armed. We're maybe 15-20 years away from that.


KnufreDoy February 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Check out the Dragan Fly on Google.. They is already here…


JRL February 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm

And unlike stealth tactical aircraft costing in excess of a $100M a pop, these adorable little one-shot death dealers can be produced almost anywhere, and will be cheap enough for any highly motivated group to buy in useful quantities

Even Al Quaeda can have an air force, now!


tiger February 2, 2012 at 4:52 pm

If a flock of geese can put a Jet into the Hudson River; Why not a flock of these?


nraddin February 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Sarah Connor: Did you see this war?
Kyle Reese: No. I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from H-K's.
Sarah Connor: H-K's?
Kyle Reese: Hunter-Killers: patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put into camps for orderly disposal.


Ben February 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

And one benefit is that they might even be mistaken by the enemy, at first, for a swarm of flying insects. This would be stealth by deception.


Seeker February 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm

End-Time Symbolism, anyone???!!!
"And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key of the shaft of the bottomless pit; he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft."

Aircraft "Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth; they were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads; they were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion, when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death will fly from them."

"In appearance the locusts were like horses arrayed for battle; on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon." (Revelation 9:1-11 RSV)


Skyepapa February 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair." — Douglas Adams


tiger February 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

1984 And Big brother is getting closer……..


tony February 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Put this sense and avoid technology in the Moller Sky Car and we'll be flying to work.


KnufreDoy February 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

For sure, All electric motors with lightwiegt battery systems could easly carry people in around with the quad copter stability.. Weather would be a problem though.. Only use on good weather days.. Lots of problems to solve for sure..


@RefractableMe February 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm

i can't wait for all the upcoming college pranks


chris February 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm

This reminds me of space invaders im shocked any one has not made the connection.


chuck February 2, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Imagine these but five times larger hundred maybe thousand carring, missiles, bombs, ECM jammers, attacking an air defense system or ship defense system, they could be controled by an aircraft, or ship or even better land control station. They would attack in waves until the enemy exhaused is AD then the real bad boys would attack, no need for F-35 or F-22 just these and there capability to swamp any D or Offensive systems. I wonder is anybody out there listening or is it just me who see hugh savings in the DOD, forget big name weapons system go for the gold small is better and cheaper who cares if we lost a hundred a thousand there are thousand more ready to go. DOD are you there knock knock


CoCowboy692000 February 3, 2012 at 7:59 am

Well, I had read about a swarm technology program over a year ago. It's a program much like this called Constellation and they were using a plane called Dominator I think is the name. They were going to fly 100 Dominators in a swarm. This swarm tech is the new thing – every piece of our hardware talks to the others… Anyway, Constellation each carried 3 bombs weighing 100 lbs and could fly for days… THAT's serious! But I knew that they had these micro's being developed too. These will be kewl too, but limited damage can be expected. They're just to small. Think of it in terms of a sheep dog taking on a herd of cattle…


Steve B February 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

No use? A few warheads full of these opening above an airfield full of nanocopters programmed to find and fly into jet engine intakes? Wouldn't even need explosive payload, just made a little harder than turbine blades


greyghost313 February 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm

does the phrase "hordes of locusts:" sound eerily prophetic?


Pro bono February 4, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Resistance is futile…prepare to be assimilated =:-[


constantin February 16, 2012 at 11:55 am

Last year I saw the drones in complete presentation of a german company microdrone.de with 100 real life applications…..Still the army is reluctant to test the potential for tactical ISR……and I dont know why! The sky is the limit …I guess.


Sharyl Theden February 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

What we can see on the video is a total revolution in my opinion, with helicopters like that army can save milions of dolars and probably human lifes too, we saw clearly on the video how they can avoid obstacles and are fast, a great work from engineers!

Sharyl Theden
retirement residences Ontario


hdryden August 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Should have read mitigate EMP with shielding


can't sleep May 26, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Cool write-up on Creepy-Cool Video: Tiny UAVs Flying in Formation ..

It is really one of the most helpful that I


Skyepapa February 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm

You're talking about the Russian remote controlled drone that they used to spy in protestors. To say that a remote controlled quad is the same as a coordinated swarm of autonomous quads misses the point a little. The technological difference is similar in magnitude to the difference between a cruise missile and a sling shot.
Info Wars has the story here :http://www.infowars.com/russian-protesters-encounter-surveillance-uav-drone/


bbmg February 2, 2012 at 4:21 am

… or miniature sentry guns, look up "The sentry project·


Thomas L. Nielsen February 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

A BB or .22lr version of the Phalanx CIWS? I like that….

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen


hdryden August 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Mitigate EMP with and depending on what frequency you are transmitting on it might be a little more difficult to jam these little suckers; or maybe even frequency hopping technology to control would help as well.


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