KMel Robotics creates a band out of flying drones

It turns out that hobby drones are good for more than just buzzing around tech shows and generally creeping us out. They can also play a pretty cool version of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” A startup called KMel Robotics this week dropped a YouTube video of its programmed drones playing the Richard Strauss composition famously featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as “Carol of the Bells” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Up until this point, the musical genre known as “drone rock” had been a weird, indie niche that consisted of slow, loud guitar noise. If machinists and programmers have their way, that description will need some major rewriting—but it’ll probably seem just as weird. This week, a team at Philadelphia-based KMel Robotics, known for building airborne video recording solutions, turned their robot-making talents to creating a band. The company pre-programmed a six-aircraft ensemble to hover over instruments and strum or strike without any human interaction, other than the team’s initial strike of a “play” button. “We’re sending commands to the vehicles at 100 times per second,” KMel co-founder Daniel Mellinger told the BBC in a video interview. “The timing is very precise. To get to the base level where we can attempt something like that took several years.” That helped KMel’s robots pull off tempo-perfect renditions of the Strauss-composed theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey (fitting, right?) and “Carol of the Bells,” along with a trippy, slowed-down take on “The Star Spangled Banner.”

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