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Tech Cool

Raffaello D'Andrea: Meet the dazzling flying machines of the future

When you hear the word "drone," you probably think of something either very useful or very scary. But could they have aesthetic value? Autonomous systems expert Raffaello D'Andrea develops flying machines, and his latest projects are pushing the boundaries of autonomous flight — from a flying wing that can hover and recover from disturbance to an eight-propeller craft that's ambivalent to orientation ... to a swarm of tiny coordinated micro-quadcopters. Prepare to be dazzled by a dreamy, swirling array of flying machines as they dance like fireflies above the TED stage.

Raffaello D'Andrea explores the possibilities of autonomous technology by collaborating with artists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Raffaello D'Andrea combines academics, business, and the arts to explore the capabilities of autonomous systems. As part of his research as professor of dynamic systems and control at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich), he and his collaborators enchant viewers with works like the self-destructing, self-assembling Robotic Chair, or the Balancing Cube that can perch itself on its corners.

D’Andrea and his team created the Flying Machine Arena to test the gravity-defying abilities of their athletic flying robots. Building on research in the Flying Machine Arena, ETH Zürich partnered with its spin-off company Verity Studios and with Cirque du Soleil to create “Sparked,” a short film showcasing the unexpected airborne dexterity of quadcopters. D’Andrea is the co-founder of Kiva Systems, a robotics company that develops intelligent automated warehouse systems and that was acquired by Amazon in 2012.

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