And even personal drones piloted by amateurs to capture cool footage have the potential to do more harm than good due to the fact that there is often a novice at the controls.
But beyond the destructive effects that drones can have and the dubious roles to which they can be assigned, there are also plenty of positive stories emerging about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Even Amazon and Google have been trialling the use of drones for parcel delivery to get your order to you more quickly, though quite how these machines
will navigate the aerial terrain of towns and cities in total safety
isn’t yet known.
No, not all drones are agents of evil and one person who is teaching us to show a little love for the drone, a lot of love in fact, is Dr Vijay Kumar, a roboticist and professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and member of Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory.
Kumar has become somewhat of an internet phenomenon since giving an excellent TED Talk about the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles, specifically autonomous agile aerial robots.
By that, he means four-rotor robots weighing as little as 50g (0.1lb), consuming just 15 watts of power and measuring 20cm (8”) in diameter, controlled by a computer.
In the GRASP lab, Kumar and his team fit these flying quadrotors with processors, sensors, motion capture systems and laser rangefinders so that they can sense each other, swarm together and coordinate to form ad hoc teams and map the environment for construction, surveying, disaster response and more – all while moving with an efficient and graceful motion.
Watch Kumar’s TED Talk below:
Kumar ends his TED Talk by presenting a slightly more whimsical application of these drones, but one that is no less impressive:
An ensemble of seven palm-sized robots perform the James Bond theme by whizzing through the air to play a variety of instruments including keyboard, percussion and a guitar built from a sofa frame with strings stretched across it.
A computer controlling the quadrotors was programmed with instructions to play the instruments.
That video, which has now been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, was created by KMel Robotics, a company co-founded by GRASP graduates and students of Kumar, Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger.
After beginning the three-melody set with "Also sprach Zarathustra" by Strauss – used in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey – the hexrotors switch to “Carol of the Bells"”, a Christmas composition by Mykola Leontovych, before playing out with the US national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner".
And the drone entertainment doesn’t stop there. KMel Robotics recently collaborated with Lexus for this cool advert below as part of the car manufacturer’s “Amazing in Motion” brand campaign series.
Here, KMel Robotics’ innovative quadrotor technology using 3D mapping software, complex algorithms and motion capture camera equipment really comes to the fore.
Each quadrotor in the video has reflective markers that respond to infrared light emitted by the cameras. Over a hundred times per second, each quadrotor maps where it is and works out where it should be to enable the swarm to fly in precisely coordinated movements.
The cute custom-made quadrotors, featuring design cues from Lexus vehicles – including its spindle grille, LED headlights and LFA exhaust – bring warmth and personality to high-tech circuitry, precision engineering and aerodynamics, common to both the drones and Lexus cars.