Drones are a subject of hot debate, but a research team from Switzerland recently developed hovering plastic robots that are not only 3D-printed, but can also assemble themselves into a single unit. The Distributed Flight Array (DFA) was developed at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control (IDSC) at ETH Zürich university in Switzerland as part of an experimental research project and public art installation.
Each hexagonal 3D-printed plastic drone is equipped with magnets on either side of its frame and a small propeller in the middle. Alone, they are wobbly and unstable in flight, but when they detect another module, the pieces assemble into a single unit and fly smoothly. For now, the DFA has to be controlled through either external sensors (such as a GPS) or a joystick, though eventually the researchers hope to make the system completely autonomous.
The self-assembling drones were not built for any particular purpose (i.e., no Department of Defense contracts pending as far as we know), but Maximilian Kriegleder from IDSC told Dezeen that the modular flying units could eventually be scaled up for use in the transportation sector. For now the project provides crucial insight into how to achieve distributed control and estimation and perhaps some cool fodder for science geeks!
Images via Dr. Raymond Oung