The University of Pennsylvania GRASP Lab released a video of flying robots maneuvering in swarm-like formations. The machines are called “Nano Quadrotors,” to reflect their small size (about the size of a small saucer) and their four helicopter-like rotors.

The video shows the swarm flying in formation in three dimensions, flipping and navigating around obstacles. The video finishes with a marching band-like figure eight routine that is really impressive. I kept waiting for a crash that, of course, never came.

The project website says the project “brings together experts in artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics, systems engineering and biology with the goal of understanding swarming behaviors in nature and applications of biologically-inspired models of swarm behaviors to large networked groups of autonomous vehicles.” According to a story on PhysOrg.com, the swarming robots are being considered for military and natural disaster missions.

GRASP is the acronym for General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception and is an interdisciplinary laboratory that draws on the combined expertise of the university’s computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering departments. Funding has grown to $10 million.