Distributed Flight Array: Robotic Vehicles Self-Assemble, Coordinate, and Take Flight

Developed by researchers at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich, the Distributed Flight Array is a flying platform made up of multiple autonomous single-propeller vehicles that can drive, dock with their peers, and fly in a coordinated fashion. The individual vehicles have fixed propellers that can lift them into the air, but the resulting flight is erratic. When at least four are joined together, the simple modules evolve into a sophisticated multi-propeller system. The task of keeping the array in level flight is distributed across the network of vehicles. Vehicles exchange information and combine this information with their own sensor measurements to determine how much thrust is needed for the array to take-off and maintain level flight. If the array's leveled flight is disturbed, each vehicle individually determines the amount of thrust required to correct for the disturbance based on its position in the array and the array's motion.