I had an idea for a swarm of tiny drones, the smallest being as small as fairy flies at 0.15mm long, that could form into shapes and structures, even mimic the shapes of living creatures.

They would form into a 3d skin, with the inside of the shape being hollow. Assuming they have the level of accuracy needed for them to stay aligned, especially for movement If mimicking a creature.

The drones will be similar to the current quadcopter design and as they form the shapes, the rotors will be facing inside into the hollow area of the structure. I am assuming there will be quite a loud hum from all the drones but I will either save that for another question or the noise can add to the mystery of the swarm creatures or structures.

My question is will all the spinning rotors directed into the hollow inside create some sort of air disturbance or if there are any other problems with this design? other than the issue of programming the drones to move so accurately.

  • $\begingroup$ This needs a lot more detail to be answerable, especially when it comes to the plausibility of mimicry. How close an inspection does it need to pass? What kind of activities does it need to mimic? Is it enough to just be the same SHAPE as a human being (for example) if observed from a distance, or do you need it to be able to pick things up and wear clothes and otherwise fool humans at close range? $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Jan 27 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisTheCat the detail really isn't an issue as it could never be passable as the creature up close, I don't think it could interact as it would not be strong enough, it is more of an illusion, its the part about the blades spinning on the inside that I am unsure if it would create problems with the air inside and distort the shape. $\endgroup$ – RandySavage Jan 27 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ If the swarm wants to mimic something, why would they continue to spin their rotors? Being a quad copter does not seem to help in any way. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Jan 27 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ A helicopter inside a box can fly around inside the box, but can't move the box itself, since any upward force is countered by the downward force of the air. It's unclear from the description if each mini-drone has its propellers inside of its own skin (in which case it can't move relative to its surroundings), or if there's one larger skin around all of them. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Jan 27 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, then they definitely can't do that. Swarms of helicopters will blow each other away for sure. quora.com/… $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Jan 27 at 21:06

I had an idea for a swarm of tiny drones... that could form into shapes and structures, even mimic the shapes of living creatures.

This is a macroscopic version of Utility Fog, a concept that involves a co-operative swarm of nanomechanical devices that use telescopic grasping limbs to interact with each other and their environment to form shapes of varying solidity and density and perform a variety of different tasks depending on what was required of them and the sophistication of the control system.

Instead of continuously flying, an energy intensive task, your swarming automata (abbreviated by Iain M. Banks into "swarmata", FYI) could simply grab on to each other and nearby objects (such as the ground) to support their macrostructure in a more efficient way. Flying is great for getting around especially to hard-to-reach areas, but co-ordinated flight is complex and energy intensive and in this case, probably unnecessary.

the smallest being as small as fairy flies at 0.15mm long [snip]. The drones will be similar to the current quadcopter design

That might not necessarily work. The behaviour of air is scale dependent... there's a handy figure in fluid dynamics called the Reynolds Number, which describes the ratio of viscous forces to inertial forces in moving fluids. Air doesn't seem at all viscous to us, because we're pretty big and the Reynolds number associated with our movement through air is very high. Down at the scale of your tiniest flyers air is surprisingly "gloopy". At low Reynold's numbers, flight can work quite differently. You may find that your micro quadcopters don't work at all, or that they're highly inefficient, or that they're terribly unmanoeuverable. I'm not sure if much research has been done on submillimetre propellers, but it might be worth considering that your smallest flyers might have to flap...

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  • $\begingroup$ thanks, i was wondering about quadcopters that small having trouble. Utility fog is what inspired me but i thought the smallest flying insect would be more achievable than flying nanobots. i thought they should keep flying so the creature can move, if they join with limbs and try to walk that way with a hollow body it wouldn't work, unless i add an internal structure? i did want to create kaiju sized monsters also and i thought that would involve too many drones to make the internal structures also. $\endgroup$ – RandySavage Jan 27 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @JRams depends on the movement and structure. A meshwork facade might be carriable by dedicated propulsion units, and a sort of rolling-falling motion might still look like a solid upright object to observers if the components on the visible face of the thing reconfigured themselves. Kaiju might be easier, as a loose cloud of flying things seen at a distance can look more substantial than it really is, and there's little need for details... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jan 27 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ what do you mean when you say "rolling-falling motion"? $\endgroup$ – RandySavage Jan 27 at 23:20

You can base the behaviour in the fire ants, they grab eachother to form different ad hoc structures, to float, seal holes, form bridges and much more. Since yours are purposely designed robots, they can be slightly better and/or stronger, creating larger structures. Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpiDADw5Omw https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ant

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