Killer-Appy Flappy Things

So apparently the open-source robot people who made that fairly remarkable thing that wanders about the place plugging itself into wall-points…

… are giving away a load of them, to people who can come up with the best ideas for what they might actually be used for.

So what does this tell you?

A while back I started collecting examples of ‘Search and Rescue‘ robots – which are basically cool machines that people have made, but once they’ve made them, can’t think of anything to use them for other than spying on people or finding them when they’re lost.

Here are a recent-ish example:

The $2.1 million robot that will save your life

If you get lost. When was the last time you got lost? The last time I got lost was in a department store when I was 3. Sleep-walking doesn’t count. You’re only lost if you know you’re lost.

Anyway, here we are, hell-bent, racing forward at a phenomenal pace, creating this revolution… which we know we want, but we don’t know what for. So we make stuff like this:


Which is fair enough I suppose. A kid’s toy. Hopefully.

A kid’s toy with 18 servos and gyroscopes and more smarts than it took to land a man on the moon back in the 60s (ok, massive exaggeration, but you get the point).

But what are these things actually for? What did C3P0 actually do? He was a translator… yea, there’s an iPhone app for that. R2D2? A cross between an upturned dustbin and… an iPhone… with script-kiddie-level hacking software… a rootkit bot. R2D2 had viruses.

I know that industrial robots have gotten to be so advanced that they could probably make themselves from scratch… but they’re not the ones getting all the attention. The ones that aren’t terribly good for anything are.

So. My theory. The (or at least A) killer-app of robotics is…

… drum roll…

… the ability to make us think we’re flying.

I’ve never seen a gadget generate so much twitter excitement as this thing:

A little quadro-copter that you control with your iphone… and crucially, you see what it sees.

These have been around for a while in various guises, but this was the first one to really make a splash. There’s a variant here:


Which is scarier looking, but tough enough to carry a hi-def camera

Here’s another one with build instructions/BOM etc

Clocking in at around $415 – although you can probably add a bit to that. Still… no worries, the prices of these things are plummeting.

So anyway, the ability to fly is a real killer-app in my opinion… and in a lot of ways, being able to do it remotely is an advantage – ie: you don’t die. This design from Nasa for example looks great, but your head is inches away from 4 blades that are spinning fast enough to turn you into salami.

And it’s 5 metres wide, and will absolutely kill anything that gets in its way.

There was some discussion recently about what a real physics-obedient space-fighter would be like… and one of the things said was that there wouldn’t be windows because of the disorientation created by flipping about in zero-g, and the massive glare/darkness created by nearby stars/the void etc. So instead you’d have screens that showed (via camera) what was outside.

Well if you’re going to do that, you may as well not be in the spaceship at all. You might as well be in a flotation tank somewhere – allowing your spaceship to withstand g-forces, temperature, radiation etc etc that you couldn’t deal with yourself.

But I digress… I think that first-person, remote controlled microcopters are going to be a killer-app of the robotics revolution – not for search and rescue, but because everyone wants to be able to fly… and first-personism allows you to feel like you are, without risk of injury. Unless you crash into your own face or something.

  • You could use them for meetings… fly off to your office, and sit around in a circle with the other gyrocopters all going “heh heh heh heh”.
  • You could send them off to the shops to get crisps, beer, fags etc, so you wouldn’t have to get out of your flotation tank.
  • You could set them up so when another gyrocopter sees you, augmented reality kicks in so it sees you, “at your best” when you’ve tidied yourself up a bit, and not as you really are… a little black helicopter, or someone lying starkers in a flotation tank, surrounded by spilled crisps, empty beer bottles and fag-ends.


2 Comments » for Killer-Appy Flappy Things
  1. Interesting catch.

    I already do that last list, Mate. No tank, just the net. I’m flying!!!!

  2. admin says:

    For some reason I find the idea of smoking in a sensory deprivation tank incredibly funny.

    A bit like putting slices of cucumber over your eyes (for beauty reasons) but making holes in them so you can read the paper.