The University of Essex has built what it claims is the world's smallest web server and will use it to form part of a flying computer network.
The Flying Gridswarm and UltraSwarm projects are designed to get computers to fly in formation like a flock of birds and communicate wirelessly while airborne to process flight information.
UltraSwarm machines incorporate helicopters fitted with cameras, Linux web servers and Bluetooth modules for communication. The Flying Gridswarm will be built around model aircraft and use Wi-Fi connections.
"We have named the general concept of combining swarm intelligence and wireless cluster computing the UltraSwarm," said Professor Owen Holland of the University's computer science department.
"Although the genesis of the idea occurred in the context of flocking systems, the basic philosophy could also apply to swarm intelligence systems based on social insect behaviour.
"In both flock-based and social insect-based UltraSwarms, the attraction lies in the potential for combining the two technologies of swarm intelligence and conventional computational abilities in a single hybrid system."
Given the poor range of Bluetooth, the UltraSwarm helicopters are designed for use indoors and the lead machine is controlled from a laptop.
In terms of application the swarm concept has significant advantages: if one of the swarm fails it can be replaced easily and the rest of the flock can continue the mission, Holland explained.
The first UltraSwarm helicopter is now flying and the project expects to show detailed research results within the next few years.
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