The quadrotors are small surveillance robots
AS THE violins soar, a lone dancer lopes gracefully across the stage of the Joyce Theatre in New York. But this is no solo. Two UFOs playfully chase him and swoop through the air around him. Modern dance and robotics may seem an unlikely combination, but this summer a troupe called Pilobolus has been performing a routine called “Seraph” with the assistance of these special guests—aerial robots programmed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Pilobolus is known for dances that incorporate unusual elements. Few, though, have been stranger than the two four-rotored helicopters that accompanied Matt Del Rosario on the stage of the Joyce. The quadrotors, as they are known technically, are small surveillance robots made by a German firm called Ascending Technologies, and were controlled by members of the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Robot flocking is one of the DRL’s specialities. Its researchers write programs that allow groups of machines to co-ordinate their actions without human intervention.
In the ten-minute performance of “Seraph” the quadrotors flit, flirt, rage, mourn and rejoice—or, at least, appear to do so in the eyes of the audience—by varying their speed and the fluidity of their motion. When the choreography demands that the robots “act happy”, for instance, they flutter like butterflies, a move not strictly necessary for security surveillance. They also have to swing like pendulums and jump like pogo sticks.
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