Flying robots perform 'James Bond' theme

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) --- File this in the don't-know-why-someone-thought-of-this-but-it's-amazing drawer:

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed flying robots -- they kind of look like fat, square hummingbirds -- that play the theme song from "James Bond" films. Not "play" in a passive sense. These little guys (or gals, since robot voices are usually female, as Brandon Griggs writes) actually hit notes on keyboards and drag sticks across chimes. One dips up and down onto a cymbal to accent the piece.

It's all pretty incredible. Check out it out in this video, shown recently at the TED conference in California:

According to a Penn press release, these robots are training for real missions:

    Figuring out how to move in unison without crashing into obstacles, or one another, is a critical skill for robot teams to develop, especially since they may one day be used to survey landscapes, build structures, or even play music.

    Here's more on how the actual performance worked:

    In this demonstration, the “stage” is in a room fitted with infrared lights and cameras. The nano quads all have reflectors on their struts, which allows the camera system to plot their exact positions and relay that information wirelessly to each unit.

    Lab members can then assign each unit a series of waypoints in three-dimensional space that must be reached at an exact time. In this case, those times and places translate into notes on a keyboard or a strum of a guitar. Figuring out how to get from waypoint to waypoint most efficiently and without disturbing their neighbors is up to the robots.

    And, finally, here's another cool video that shows what the robots are up to when they're not playing music. Seeing them training to fly in formation is awesome in a semi-threatening way. (You can insert your favorite robots-are-taking-over-the-world joke here).