Quadcopters swarm the TED stage.

Long Beach, California—Vijay Kumar’s videoshave already been a hit on YouTube, as people have been fascinated to watch swarms of robotic quadrotors perform various feats, like flying through narrow windows and coasting across a room in formation. But Kumar still had a few tricks up his sleeve when he took the stage at TED, and he seized the opportunity to show some serious ways in which aerial robots will change our world.

Some could say that aerial robots are already making a huge impact, primarily in military applications where (very) remote humans often pilot drones in hostile territories.

Kumar, however, envisions aerial robots that can fly themselves and carry out their tasks, on their own, or with minimal human input beyond initial design and programming. His drones offload even more of the job of stabilizing their flight to computers that aren’t even on-board the copter (a weight and complexity advantage). Once airborne, the entire flight is computer-controlled.

The copters themselves are very stripped down. In most of the versions shown so far, they simply carry a sensor that lets them know where they are and how they are oriented in space, and remote-controlled hardware for adjusting their four rotors. All the heavy lifting—figuring out where to go and how to maintain a stable flight around obstacles—is done by computers that communicate with them wirelessly.

Aerial robots swarm the stage at TED .

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