It used to be that geeks were unexciting people locked away in labs. Behind workstations. Eyes and brains focused on algorithms of one kind or another. But used to be’s don’t count anymore because today’s geeks can get their robots to send you flowers. At least this is what we’re being led to believe from the happenings at TED 2012, a top geeky gathering this week. The big happening there is The Lab where everyone shows up for the latest helping of awesomeness from the world of engineering. There they were treated to an array of entertainment along with scientific marvels including a hummingbird drone aircraft and colorful beachballs raining down on them. There were also interesting talks, perhaps because that’s what TED does.
But the “wow” factor comes with the “charming” moniker, Agile Aerial Robots from Vijay Kumar, a professor of engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. These robots are small, sometimes eight inches in diameter. At a glance they may look like the next cool toy but in fact they could be very useful in the industrial world. With a combination of sensors, these “agile” robots can be sent into a disaster area to survey damage, sniff out dangerous gases, for instance, and even map out the interior of a building for a law enforcement team. One demonstration of the robots in action had them playing musical instruments. Another showed a group of robots independently constructing a small structure. Due to their miniature stature, they can’t carry heavy “payloads.” But working in unison, they can be like ants, carrying much more than their weight. Meanwhile, carpenter ants are more likely to carry an object if its coated in fig juice. Who would have guessed?