March 1st, 2012
01:41 PM ET

Flying robots perform 'James Bond' theme

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) -– File this in the don't-know-why-someone-thought-of-this-but-it's-amazing drawer:

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed flying robots - they kind of look like fat, square hummingbirds - that play the theme song from "James Bond" films. Not "play" in a passive sense. These little guys (or gals, since robot voices are usually female, as Brandon Griggs writes) actually hit notes on keyboards and drag sticks across chimes. One dips up and down onto a cymbal to accent the piece.

It's all pretty incredible. Check out it out in this video, shown recently at the TED conference in California:

According to a Penn press release, these robots are training for real missions:

Figuring out how to move in unison without crashing into obstacles, or one another, is a critical skill for robot teams to develop, especially since they may one day be used to survey landscapes, build structures, or even play music.

Here's more on how the actual performance worked:

In this demonstration, the “stage” is in a room fitted with infrared lights and cameras. The nano quads all have reflectors on their struts, which allows the camera system to plot their exact positions and relay that information wirelessly to each unit.

Lab members can then assign each unit a series of waypoints in three-dimensional space that must be reached at an exact time. In this case, those times and places translate into notes on a keyboard or a strum of a guitar. Figuring out how to get from waypoint to waypoint most efficiently and without disturbing their neighbors is up to the robots.

And, finally, here's another cool video that shows what the robots are up to when they're not playing music. Seeing them training to fly in formation is awesome in a semi-threatening way. (You can insert your favorite robots-are-taking-over-the-world joke here).

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Filed under: Culture • Innovation • Robots
soundoff (109 Responses)
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    April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  4. VoiceOf Truth

    Ok, that's all well and good and awesome. I'll just sit and hold my breath for when the military comes up with all kinds of ways to kill humans with this remarkable invention.

    March 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • Astrophel

      It's long ways off field application, but still the US have the drones that are nowadays killing people on their own. It's not like this is anything new, just a demo of stuff that can be done. The robot rebellion is is still some years off, because they don't have the ability to think as such yet. When the complexity arrives at the point of, let's say a cat, and has a body, the robots will not follow our commands. A cat doesn't follow your commands, he does what he likes. Nobody knows what an intelligence as smart as a cat can do in a network. If confined to a mechanical body, that's ok. Just don't let them out on the internet.

      March 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Reply
      • Hosmanys

        DavidJewlian March 10, 2009 I agree with most all your points made here. People shulod be intellectually curious all the time, not just when it is convenient.I do find a point of consternation with how you find the answer My girlfriend! to be astonishing when asked about his passion. Yes, you shulod have a passion for your employment, but I don't believe it has to be the driving force in your life. If all you live, eat, and breathe is your job, you're bound for burnout and bound to be the bore of every party. While I understand it may seem a bit of a juvenile thing to say in an interview, I wouldn't discount the answer as foolish (not that you do). I give the man props for answering outside the realm of classic interview responses. Otherwise, great post and, as stated before, I definitely agree. Be curious all the time, not just when it's necessary.

        August 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • me

      Ok – two students invented the thing. Which was not really invention – they just made the existing robot smaller. The questions is – HOW DOES THAT INDIAN KUMAR FITS IN? Why was he presenting this "invention" on the show and not the real "inventors"? I never seen Indians invent anything – they just talk.

      March 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  5. Dakota2000

    Unbelievable waste of tax payer money.

    March 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Astrophel

      Well, if you don't want to contribute to the trillion dollar "defence bill", you can always try to vote for reasonable people. For some reason, it's not possible in the "democracy" of the US, just like it's not possible to vote for change in Russia. Somehow the same person or the same idea is still the only thing there.

      March 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply
    • Really?

      Where in this article does it say that taxpayer money was being used? It's Penn State University. Are you saying that SCHOOLS are a waste of taxpayer money? Or maybe you're suggesting that finding innovative ways to do things without putting people in harm's way is a waste of taxpayer money. Or perhaps you mean that advancing our technological capabilities in robotics is a waste of taxpayer money.

      March 5, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
      • NotPennState

        It's from the University of Pennsylvania, a private school - not Penn State.

        March 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  6. jjww

    I want one...scratch that. I want twenty.

    March 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • qualen


      March 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  7. Robert

    Gosh, y'all always have something negative to say. Be positive for once. Anyways...

    Cool invention. This would be great on spy missions and discovering things around earth that we normally wouldn't go look. Glad to hear we are advancing to the future.

    March 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  8. Matthew from Orange, Ca

    Next, the Intrigal Quadrotor Happy Time Band will perform a piece of their own creation: "KILL.ALL.HUMANS."

    March 4, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply


      March 5, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply

      When they start doing that song from the movie apocalypse now, kiss your butt good bye.

      March 5, 2012 at 10:39 am | Reply
      • Caio

        Posted on I do think Domu would make an excellent movie. Back in the late 90 s, when they were imndolipg a bunch of the old projects in Chicago, I kept thinking to myself that this was a perfect opportunity for a filmmaker to step in and use one of those as a set.I think the new Blue Beetle would be a good candidate for adaptation.

        July 21, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  9. justicefor7

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    Neal W. Dias

    March 3, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply

      No one cares.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Dan E

      Stop spamming CNN.

      March 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • lawd

      CNN again trying to make people fearful of technology (with some narrative) because it does not play well into their plans for global domination by destorying the free market typical. pshhh.

      imma eat some bread now.

      March 4, 2012 at 5:08 am | Reply
    • Massive Marbles

      Neal, you're in the GOP lion's den.

      But, someone does care. I'll read it.

      March 4, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
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      I liked Rudy.I LOVED Eddie Koch, even though he stmmoiees drove me nuts. Mr Guliani? Sir, you are NO Ed Koch.And you couldn't even beat either of our currently sitting United States Senators.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  10. Robotic chicks are REALLY what is needed

    Imagine a chick that never gets fat, always does what you say "fetch my shoes biayytch", never talks back, and has a "voice off" button. Ohhhh yea tech is great!

    March 3, 2012 at 12:11 am | Reply
  11. the breeze

    Anyone seen my swatter?

    March 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  12. Lee s

    Could use them for search and rescue or the and destroy. If someone goes missing hiking or whatever, put a few dozen of these in the area with infrared cameras and mics.

    March 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  13. shane

    but monkeys are not as smart

    March 2, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
  14. Cody

    Cool beans

    March 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • Joe


      March 2, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
      • Bappa

        Wow! Great to find a post kconikng my socks off!

        March 18, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Lee s

      CCCCCOOOOOOlll beans

      March 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  15. Cody


    March 2, 2012 at 9:43 am | Reply
  16. Cody

    Totally awesome dudes

    March 2, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
  17. EvolveNow

    How about programming them to do search and destry missions over mine fields? Millions of mine set off and/or marked for destruction, loss of human life = 0! Could be of great use against IEDs also!

    March 2, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
    • Rainbow dash

      True, but they wanna use them for a retarded use.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
      • Lee s

        Jesus youre here too. Are you the same Rainbow on Saber of exar kun lol?

        March 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  18. Taran

    As long as the name of the company is not "Skynet."

    March 2, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • deathtothehumans

      skynet was the computer. but cyberdyne was the company. and there is a cyberdyne company.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:26 am | Reply
      • Taran

        Greeaattt...then cyberdyne needs to be put out of business before they kill us allllllll!!!!!!!!!

        March 2, 2012 at 9:46 am |
      • George

        And the terrminator movies were actually signals sent from the future to warn us because they never really figured out how
        to send humans or machines back just thought patterns that were picked up by a writer who wrote the movies. So be warned..... Judgement day dec 21,2012.....

        March 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
      • Markus

        The movie Contact was part of the message

        March 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  19. John

    Many practical, global, military applications. Picture formations of thousands of armed flying robots tasked to target sources of firepower in Syria or Afghanistan. The solution to tyrants is at hand.

    March 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
    • Leena

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  20. TrekkieGT

    We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistence is futile!

    March 2, 2012 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • sticky g

      you spelled assassinated wrong. stupid computer

      March 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  21. Hugh

    YAY robots!

    March 2, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  22. Borg

    Very cool, but I'll wait for the cybernetic implants to come out…

    March 2, 2012 at 3:32 am | Reply
    • BorgToo

      I am Dyslexia from Borg, You're ass will be laminated!!!!

      March 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  23. Hadenuffyet

    Robot skeeters...get the repellent..

    March 2, 2012 at 1:31 am | Reply
  24. LeaveBlank

    Are batteries included?

    March 2, 2012 at 1:09 am | Reply
    • Elwood

      what's old is new again. Nice reference.

      March 2, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  25. ro

    I imagine they would do for a search and rescue in the forest. But outside the lab, they gotta have the equivalent of a mothership for refuelling and AWACS to scan and plot the area ahead.

    March 2, 2012 at 1:00 am | Reply
    • Monica

      Posted on hmm that's a weird list. for me, honestly, most of them fall into the Watchmen shloudn't even be a movie really list and yet, here comes Watchmen, and it looks pretty good, so who knows.Of their list, Runaways and Criminal were the two that instantly jumped out at me as, Ooh, that'd be cool. i'm bad at thinking of stuff for things like this, so the only thing that comes to mind is Box Office Poison, which I'd pitch as Friends starring Harvey Pekar. I could see that being a really good indie flick. A couple juicy parts in there for name actors slumming a little

      July 21, 2012 at 12:32 am | Reply
  26. Chris

    The Flight of the Valkyries would have been more appropriate

    March 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  27. Kitty

    I want one!
    I want a mini flying robot!

    March 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • Ishfaq

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      July 19, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
      • Souvik

        Hey hun! I thought I'd play along. Best bday gift I ever GAVE somoene was a signed copy of The Shining made out to the recipient. Why is that amazing? Stephen King doesn't really sign books anymore. I'll tell you about that one at WPPI. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

        August 22, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • Melanie

      Posted on If you still aren't sold on Dance, it's about The Super Young Team from Final Crisis, which has the following roetsr:Most Excellent SuperbatBig Atomic Lantern BoyWell Spoken Sonic Lightning FlashShiny Happy AquazonShy Crazy Lolita CanaryThat is all.

      July 21, 2012 at 1:30 am | Reply
  28. sonofsarpy

    i'm too lazy to read the comments. SKYNET IS HERE!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  29. MIke

    I can envision a fleet of these becoming proficient in scratching a person's back. What a cool idea.

    March 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  30. mindlayr

    That song sucked. 🙂

    March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  31. Scott

    So, I'm not completely sure this does not creep me out!

    March 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  32. Andrew Vrba

    Fry the little sucker.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  33. miles dyson

    skynet by cyberdyne

    March 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  34. CoolBeans

    Great job .. guys! This is one-small-step-one-giant-leap-type progress .... fantastic!

    March 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • s

      Does this mean that we are that much closer to hover boards?

      March 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • matt


        March 2, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  35. widget0730

    Ok, The space invader formation was classic! especially since the first time I saw one of those fly, that was the first thing that popped into my head.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  36. Thinker

    This is one of many examples that prove that we need better means of energy storage. These cool little things probably don't fly very long. Do they use a conventional chemical storage or charge storage?

    March 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • fireofenergy

      The lifepo4 battery has a 2,000 complete charge-discharge longevity. Thousands more for partial charges. It can be recharged to like 80% in less than 1/2 hour (still a bummer for these quick little guys) and does not have the thermal issues that their cousin, the li-ion has (hence the longevity).
      So, I imagine these guys "hooking up" to the charger every 1/2 hour or so. The lifepo4 is also much lighter than nimh. Its drawback is that it require slightly more volume than the li-ion (but still less than nimh).

      Everybody's rooftop will have "quad hookups"... and apps that tell them to spy on their facebook friends.... lol

      March 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
      • Joe

        In 2009 a couple companies also achieved the first flights of fuel-cell powered model helicopters. They aren't as small as the ones in this video yet. But they can achieve longer flights and refuel instantly.

        March 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  37. Ayodeji A.

    all i can think of is these being used to assemble and build. amazing...

    March 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      That was actually one of the first videos of these that came out, a group of them assembling prefabricated building structures.

      March 2, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
  38. cnnlicksit

    Um. So they need the camera system to communicate? Seems like that is a huge limitation to them performing any task outside of the laboratory.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      It's a starting point. The theory is that as they develop robots like this further, they each will be able to examine their immediate surroundings and relay that information to all the others. When you get all of the robots sharing their surroundings they will collectively have an accurate layout of the larger area.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • joe

      We use commandos to "paint" targets with lasers that enable 'smart bombs' to be dropped down chimneys of buildings from miles away.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • Jesse Lee you won't say that to their sensors.

      March 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
      • Jesse Lee


        March 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  39. AgentJ

    I for one welcome our swarming microbot overlords!

    (Hey, he said to insert my favorite 'robots-are-taking-over-the-world joke', after all.)

    March 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
    • Sasquawtch

      Send in a copy of your driver's liecnse, indicating you obtained it in November 2005, and vehicle registration. The only thing that will count on the vehicle registration is when it was issued in YOUR name. I believe Florida will accept the driver's liecnse and they will also accept the vehicle registration if it has been in your name for a year. Regulations, however, can vary from state to state so you would be well advised to contact your university and ask them what they will accept, thus putting your mind at ease. Be sure to let them know that you actually obtained the DL in November 2005 and that March 2006 is merely the renewal date. I really don't think you will have any trouble.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:17 am | Reply
  40. jdoggg81

    Most amazing thing ever. I cant imagine the power source lasting more than a few minutes. i can see potential in these. however the james bond song they picked stinked!

    March 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • DAT

      We should listen to the opinion of someone who thinks "stinked" is a word?

      March 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply

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