The annual Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference offers amazing, inspiring, and thought-provoking presentations that often set tongues wagging.
And the talk of town at Long Beach, Calif., may be one of the most exciting yet: autonomous flying robots with a talent for music and a penchant for Bond -- James Bond, that is.
Roboticist Vijay Kumar and his team at the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory riveted the crowd on Wednesday with video clips of their eight-inch, .1-pound, four-rotor autonomous flying robots performing 360-degree flips in less than half a second, zooming through hula hoops thrown into the air and building mini-structures -- all without human control.
But what really got the audience going at this year's conference was the very last clip of the presentation, a music video created by GRASP lab members and UPenn students Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev. The video featured nine of these flying 'bots playing the "James Bond" theme song using a keyboard, a drum, a cymbal, and even a guitar.
According to The Verge, this was all made possible with "infrared lights and cameras that capture the locations of the individual drones. The team then sets a series of 3D waypoints -- say a C-sharp note on the organ -- as well as times that the waypoints (notes) need to be hit."
While their performance was pretty impressive and highly entertaining, it's just one of many things these robots can do. Kumar made sure to point out their potential uses, which go beyond simple tricks.
For example, they could act as first responders, venturing into collapsed buildings or locations with biochemical leaks to measure damage or toxicity levels and effectively eliminating the need to put a human at risk. The development of larger models could even enable them to transport cargo, either individually or in a swarm formation.
The possibilities are indeed endless, and while Kumar and his team continue to ponder them, at least they've left us with an amazing video to enjoy. Check out a clip of the robots' "James Bond" music video (above) and make sure to watch the full TED talk by Vijay Kumar (below).
For more from TED 2012, read our exclusive post by conference curator Chris Anderson about this year's surprising TED Prize winner.
Check out the slideshow for some of the best TED talks from 2011 and earlier.