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Wireless Networking Software Toys Hardware Linux

Unmanned Aircraft Clustered via Bluetooth 189

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at the University of Essex are using Linux and tiny embedded computer modules to build fleets of unmanned aircraft that fly in flocking formations like birds, while performing parallel, distributed computing tasks using Bluetooth-connected Linux clustering software. The Gridswarm project includes model trainers that can fly 120mph, while a parallel Ultraswarm project uses co-axial helicopters. A prototype of the later is believed to the world's smallest flying web server. The aircraft will run Linux on embedded computing modules from Gumstix."
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Unmanned Aircraft Clustered via Bluetooth

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  • Cooooooool. (Score:5, Funny)

    by mrseigen ( 518390 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:15AM (#12551531) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if my municipality will take offense to flying sorties over to my neighbours' yard to steal beer out of his cooler.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Can't wait for the first BT virus for this one. That's when you'll see the real sorties flying through your neighborhood.
    • Imagine a flying beowulf cluster of these.

      (Actually, at least the earlier prototype used beowulf software.)

  • by GrouchoMarx ( 153170 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:18AM (#12551551) Homepage
    A prototype of the later is believed to the world's smallest flying web server.

    There's competition for that title? Just how many flying web servers are there? (IIS boxes falling out of high office windows after being thrown do not count.)
    • I had the same thought when I read that...

    • You know, I wonder WHY does one NEED a flying webserver that's small? If you've got to dish out websites from something that flies why not park a high-altitude blimp up at, oh..say, 50,000 feet and beam down the internet from there? Or... why not park a box full of anetna, electronics, bateries, and solar cells into orbit and do the same from there?

      If you need a cluster of machines to work in paralell for greater number-crunching power, why not by a big server rack and throw in a bunch of 1U sized machines
      • I agree with the why; no matter how cool it would be to be sniffing for wifi and running across the webservers' routing from my home machine, it seems silly to exert so much effort (read money) for the effect. Maybe is is useful for someone who does not want their website to be tracked by big brother(tm)... which is feasible in the US now-a-days. Yet just by doing that, one would need to be using open AP's that one is flying by, just asking for Federal Freddy to not so proverbially nail your ass to the pr
        • if nothing else think of the implications of a highly mobile (flying) intranet- the original design was to survive a nuclear holocaust and this further helps that (although i doubt it gets high enough to really make a different)-- however it is a step in that direction. Also, think of military uses, again it would need to be high altitude to be really usable but a highly mobile communications system could replace microwave point to point communications in that sense. but hell, i really dont know what im t
      • Because a flock of small, redundant machines is more reliable than a single one that fails all at once. And more scalable, especially in smaller increments. And more adaptable to multiple simultaneous tasks, as the real world often demands. And possibly cheaper to produce. The same architecture and economics that have multiplied smaller, cheaper networked machines on the ground is also compelling in the air - maybe more so, given the extra risks.

        Oh, and the MPUDs you mention are also a much better way to g
        • Given that there's a limit to the amount of cpu power that can fit into any given size of airplane, the flying cluster can have much higher "brainpower" than a single vehicle. If nothing else, it should allow the cluster to more easily recognise objects, threats, etc without having to refer back to an operator.

          And as you say, there's builtin redundancy, so that maybe the cluster could decide to risk a member by letting it peek around or over an object while the main group stays safe. Also, members could b

      • by RedLaggedTeut ( 216304 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @06:32AM (#12552791) Homepage Journal

        You know, I wonder WHY does one NEED a flying webserver that's small?

        Obviously, when a webserver detects the slashdot effect, it will signal the UWWWWCOM, which will quickly deploy a flock of webservers towards the site to serve webpages.

        Then, when the slashdot effect cools off, the flying webservers can be redeployed as necessary, maybe to provide entertainment to soldiers in Iraq.

        A very efficient use of resources, isn't it?

    • Real-life applications is probably going to be something like smart sensor networks, you strap a small sensor to each little plane, send it out, tell them to flock together and have maybe one slight larger plane lagging behind which sends all the data back (power requirements for satelite communication and all). a lot harder to shoot down and a lot cheaper (and easier) to replace if it does get shot down.
    • (IIS boxes falling out of high office windows after being thrown do not count.)

      Well christ, if IIS does one thing well, it's crashing.

    • A prototype of the later is believed to the world's smallest flying web server.

      Support: 'The sites gonna be down for a while, the servers crashed.'

      User: 'Dos attack or something?'

      Support: 'No. It crashed literally.....into a tree'
    • Are there any satellites running webservers? Oh yes there is... []

      plus it's a g4!!!! Yeah!
    • With a fleet of these things, Google Maps [] could operate in real time. It would make UFO tracking [] much easier.
  • Uh oh. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Knnniggit ( 800801 )
    Well, there goes the neighborhood...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:19AM (#12551558)
    Imagine a beowulf clust... I mean... imagine if you ran linux on... I mean... ARRGH!

  • by Anonymous Coward
  • Real boids? (Score:4, Informative)

    by davi_bock ( 582213 ) <davi.bock@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:26AM (#12551598)
    I wonder if they base their algorithm on Craig Reynolds' boids []?
  • by Seiruu ( 808321 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:27AM (#12551607)
    *imagines little MPAA people running around with guns*
  • Flcoking Behavior (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cryptacool ( 98556 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:31AM (#12551625)
    As an A-LIFE dork I think the fact that they got these planes to exhibit true (if they arent lying little light on details) flocking behavior, it's not hard to make things flock it takes basically 3 instructions.

    1) Follow the plane/bird in front of you
    2) Go about as fast as the plane/birds around you
    3) Don't hit other birds/planes, keep a reasonable distance.

    Emergent behavior is really amazing if you are interested in it some more check out Its the website of the last alife conference in boston that took place over the summer, really neat stuff in there.
    • uhh sorry its late, i didnt finish my though, it's not that hard, _in theory_ to create emergent flocking behavior its just really really neat to see it done with actual planes/helicopters.
    • Re:Flcoking Behavior (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dmaduram ( 790744 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @03:23AM (#12552073) Homepage

      Hmm, I could be wrong about this, but flocking behavior is *vastly* more complex than the three points that listed in the parent's post.

      From what I understand, flocking doesn't result from just 'following the birds adjacent to you', but instead a result of optimizing a complex multiplanar lifting system [] in order to reduce total flight power demand.

      Honestly, I'd be suprised if the researchers were able to emulate the real purpose of a flock, instead of just emulating superficial swarming behavior -- there was a very readable article in Science written by two guys at Caltech on flight efficiency & flocking [], and they conclude with the premise that: "theoretically 25 birds could have a range increase of about 70 percent as compared with a lone bird"

      IMO, programmed swarming behavior is nothing new, but if these researchers run with the ball and generate *real* efficiency-optimizing flocking behavior with man-made aircraft, the ramifactions could be huge.

      • Lift optimising behaviour is a special case of general flocking behaviour that provides a particular evolutionary benefit for long journeys, for example by geese. Basic flocking behaviour (for example flocks of starlings) doesn't exhibit this. The latter requires relatively small numbers of local rules to create the emergent behaviour. There is still debate on how locally each bird looks to determine its flight path and to what extent it looks to birds beyond its immediate locality.
      • I think you're confusing the purpose of flocking with how it comes about. The bird's are not actively sitting down and "optimizing a complex multiplanar lifting system". The optimization can be an emergent behavior that arises from simple flocking rules.
  • familiar (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I saw this on an episode of tale-spin once
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I cant wait till they start strapping sidewinders on these things, like to see them HaXoRz try a D.O.S. attack then!!

    drone1: incoming slashdot effect!
    drone2: take offensive action!
    drone3-10: wi-fi targets aquired
  • Want funding? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MoralHazard ( 447833 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @01:37AM (#12551647)
    I'm amazed that the article didn't include any references to "Homeland Security" or "fighting terrorism". Doesn't it seem like every single goddamned new idea, or retread of an old one, gets stretched in the marketing to push the security applications for terrorism?

    Where there's money, though...
    • I suppose these could be used to patrol the border (with Mexico of course) or scout out terrain or a combat zone in Iraq.
    • From the article "The photo below shows de Nardi's prototype serving a web page"

      Great, now its feasable for the slashdot effect to cause real collateral damage. Lets hope the terrorists don't discover the weakness of this new technology...

      BTW, anybody have a link to the page hosted by the prototype :)
    • Re:Want funding? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by manojar ( 875389 )
      because that is being done in the UK, where homeland security is the bobbies protecting the crown and her jewels.
    • Re:Want funding? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vo0k ( 760020 )
      Because they were developed in UK, not US, the land of Freedom.
    • true and agreed- it is overhyped, but one thing everyone must accept is that governments fund this type of research the most, and most of the time its to either create:

      a) better weapons
      b) better weapon defenses
      c) better communications

      with that said it really shouldn't be surprising that everything has military applications .. HOWEVER! i do agree with your base point and understand that what I am saying is slightly different than what you are saying. cheers.
    • Re:Want funding? (Score:2, Informative)

      I believe that's the University of Essex in the UK - we went on a tour there to see their robotics dept. The helicopter is hovering above their powerd floor so that robots can re-charge whilst on the floor (that's how I could tell it was the UK Essex)

      Pretty cool idea though - wish I'd gone to that campus now instead of the Southend one.

      Oh well...
      • Nah, you don't.

        I went to Essex (BSc and MSc), and while Owen Holland (who I was taught by for MSc) is great, and the CompSci and ESE departments churn out a lot of cool research, I wouldn't advise anyone to go there for undergrad work.

        Why? Let's just say the university authorities haven't grasped why treating "undergraduate students" as "consumers" is inherently wrong. University should be about getting out, exploring life and extending your horizons. The UG CompSci programme has a distressing tendency
    • Re:Want funding? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shaper_pmp ( 825142 )
      Maybe in the US, but here in the UK we're refreshingly clear of unnecessary terrorist paranoia.

      Might be because we don't currently have a large, powerful right-wing coalition bent on dominating the entire political process, who needs a constant state of paranoia and fear to create the climate in which they can fulfill their orwellian wet-dreams (it's our "left"-wing party now)...

      Or possibly just that we sensibly got all that expansionist empire-building crap out of our systems a hundred years ago, before
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But do they run Windows?

    Imagine a Windows 2003 server farm of flying cluster planes.
    • That was the original plan, but I believe it was scrapped due to planes inexplicably bursting into flames. Rumor has it had something to do with posting a link to the airborne servers on Slashdot....
  • Considering Bluetooth range in Open Air, i will be surprised if they fly at random formation.
    Best and Easier option is to fly Synchronized.
  • by goneutt ( 694223 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @02:09AM (#12551783) Journal
    I'm visualizing a flock of computer controled ultralight orinthopters with wings made of plastic explosive. Commanded, they flock and gather on places where a demolition charge needs to be set. Once a critical number gathers, they organize to make a shaped charge, and BOOM!!!.

    Also, visualize a bombsquad guy in all that padding chasing these things with a net.
    • I'm visualizing a flock of computer controled ultralight orinthopters with wings made of plastic explosive.

      This reminds me of that Road Runner cartoon where Wiley Coyote takes a couple dozen sticks of dynamite, straps wings to them, lights the fuses, and releases them from a balloon...

      At least for a while, they seem to flock. Whole rest of the cartoon, they keep drifting in on him.

    • You can't make a shaped charge like that.
      It has to be homogeneous and it has to be solid.

      Kind of like this....
      **/ - Copper or other fast forming metal in front
      | of a lot of High Explosive

      If you try to make it from many different masses (as your post seems to say), then the energy developed will bleed away through the gaps making it highly inefficient (and maybe useless).
    • I was thinking something similar, except more along the lines of 'the days of the strategic bomber are numbered'.

      Clusters such as you describe might be the killer defense that could render the strategic bomber vulnerable and obsolete.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    FTFS: A prototype of the later is believed to be the world's smallest flying web server.

    It would be interesting to follow the effects of slashdotting on that one, quick somebody post a link!
  • by Supp0rtLinux ( 594509 ) <> on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @02:17AM (#12551821)
    Sounds like something out of Michael Crichton's Prey []

    My Treo/PDA/Smartphone Optimized Site []
  • by goneutt ( 694223 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @02:38AM (#12551905) Journal
    I see a natural benefit to building flying webservers. When the /. effect kicks in, you accellerate to increase the cooling, and if nessicary, you take the flock out of populated areas to burst into flames.
    Probably work better in england, here in my part of Texas the red tailed hawks would probably take 'em down.
    • In a red state I don't think it will just be hawks tailing these guys... "What we got ourselves here is a real live specimen of web servus linuxtrocious. Remember, just winging them won't take it down, that OSS software can take a licking and keep on ticking. Better bring out the AP ammo."
  • ...the world's smallest flying web server

    and let's crash the focker.

  • unmanned planes, linux, bluetooth... wait, no breasts. Nevermind.
  • PS3 post (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by a3217055 ( 768293 )
    Gumstix are nice but I have not found anything useful for it, bought mine did some devel work, and then sold it on ebay. PS The PS3 coverage at E3 rocks, where is the coverage on that ...
  • by Reteo Varala ( 743 ) <> on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @03:16AM (#12552049) Homepage
    So, by using the right virus, and a bluetooth rifle, you can shoot these planes down?
    • Actually, no virus will be needed. Just shoot down the lead "bird", and the rest will fly in formation smack into the ground. Wish that shooting ducks was that easy, although it wouldn't be "sporting".
  • So... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So what we have here then... is a Cluster Flock?

  • ... a beowulf cluster... Err... Why is Alfred Hitchcock staring at me..?
  • just wait until the site hosted on one of these things gets slashdotted.. it'll be raining fire, literally!
  • Ahh, now I do feel superior...

    Interesting factoid: a typical flock of starlings (about 2,000 birds) contains as much brain tissue as a single human.
  • All we need now is BTEfnet hosted on a cluster of these things.. lets see the MPAA catch em now... Program the things to fly off when under attack!

    Although when the next Lost or Dr Who episode comes out... Expect a few of these things to fall from the sky.
  • Linux runs skynet... literally. :(

    If it ran Windows we would have a chance. Now the rise of the Machines is inevitable. :(

    Why couldn't people stick to porting to toasters and watches?
  • I for one welcome our bird-like flocking-flying parallel-processing bluetooth-connected linux-cluster overlords !

    what's next ? flying pigs with embedded linux running on hardware powered by blood sugar connected by light-teleportation doing acrobatic displays whilst hosting online PS3 games. I think so !
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The following are obvious ideas, but maybe publishing them could prevent patenting.
    * A queue of cars is also like a flock
    * Onboard computers can co-operate in helping drive the cars, or entirely drive the cars
    * The cars can use a suitable operating system, such as Linux.
    * The cars can communicate through radio, light, sound etc., using any protocol, for example blue-tooth.
    * At a junction, any car can choose to leave its current flock and join one heading more towards the car's destination.
    * Each floc
  • It would be interesting to have packs of these things fly around in a pattern and meet up with one another periodically and share pending packets. They would also periodically fly near base stations and exchange packets with the network there. It would be like a fully-networked version of RFC 1149!

  • Military uses? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by david.heyman ( 36692 )
    I can see how parts of this might be interesting in a military application. Run several UAV []'s in formation with one person controlling them. Use the bluetooth to enable them to triangulate positions and keep from getting too close to one another.
  • heterogeneous swarms that employ a combination of airborne and terrestrial robots.
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @07:44AM (#12553253) Homepage Journal
    Where to begin with the jokes?

    But penguins cannot fly!

    Great! Now we can re-shoot Hitchcock's "The Birds" with the [RI|MP]AA as the stars!

    Now I'll have to wash all those core dumps off my car!

    SQUAWCK! We are the Borg. SQUAWCK! Resistance is futile! SQUAWCK! 4 of 99 wants a cracker! SQUAWCK!

    A robotic parrot/web server is the perfect gift for a data pirate - when will ThinkGeek carry them?

    Do they use RFC 1149 []?

  • Jethro: That vee of flyin' gadgets yonder: ya'll know why one leg of the vee's longer'n t'other?
    Cletus: Nope. Why?
    Jethro: Got more gadgets in it.
  • So you fly it for 10-15 minutes max and then come in for a 30 minute recharge. Seems like ghe ground crew are going to be very busy for the anticipated "flock".

    With enough battery power to run for 10 minutes or even one hour, there has to be a fast and convenient way to re-charge or re-fuel. In-flight would be good. Consider a larger battery filled helocopter flying nearby. When a plane or copter needed recharging it would fly nearby and couple itself with the re-charger. How to transfer energy from

  • HIgh Altitiude? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2005 @09:27AM (#12554036) Homepage
    How about a swarm of high altitude balloons that form a telescope array? using their fans, they can stay in relative position to one another.
  • Look at all those lovely planes flying out there.

    Oh yeah, I read about that. They are a cluster--here is their web site.

    Cool, this is amazing. Hang on while I post it to Slashdot.

    [sound of planes falling from the sky follows]
  • This sounds like a step towards one of the nano-tech promisses that sounded too wierd to believe.

    I wonder how much that could be miniturised before air friction required a radical re-design.
  • So I presume the each military will get some manufacturer to build custom bluetooth chips (operating on military frequencies), then fit everything of note with these. Finally have your flocks of servers moving the data around and creating/maintainging redundant communication links (perhaps ferrying meta-data across the prime network, data on demand and delivering drops of data at other times perhaps literally with cards), providing intelligence on the ground and back to base. I can also forsee these bei

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein