These Autonomous Drones That Flock Like Birds Sound Horrifying

Illustration for article titled These Autonomous Drones That Flock Like Birds Sound Horrifying

The thing about mad scientists is that they're both mad and good at science. It seems obvious, but the outcomes are always unexpected. Case and point: this team of Hungarian physicists who created a bunch of autonomous drones that flock like birds. The invasion begins now.

For now, the flying drone army is comprised of relatively innocent quadcopters. The researchers used GPS signals to track the specific locations of each drone and radio transmitters so that they can communicate with each other. This ensures that if the drones get too close to each other, they can self-correct and prevent a big crash. The team's flocking algorithms are so good, though, that the drone flocks can even deal with bottlenecks without getting jammed up. Watch them in action here.

The flocking of the drones is obviously inspired by nature, but 80s futurism also played a role. Tamás Vicsek, a physicist at Hungary's Eötvös Loránd University who led the research, based the flocking drone project on a 1986 computer program called Boids that simulated flying objects according to three rules: alignment, attraction, and repulsion. Regardless of how they work, though, it's still a little bit terrifying to see robots behaving like animals. But I guess we should get used to it… [Nature]

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DISCUSSION

Boids was pretty groundbreaking, but it's not really accurate to say these flocking drones are related to "80's futurism".

What the author of Boids did (if I remember correctly) is distill what had previously been almost universally thought to be a really complex animal behavior down to a set of 3 simple rules. So the current drones might use those same rules, but there isn't a distinct "80's futurism" influence it's nature and something based on nature that is the influence.

ps. I am not sure I know what you mean when you say the drones behavior is inspired by "80's futurism" - I was expecting to see something about some literary/movie depiction of how drones would work.