"Penn's new engineering dean is off to a flying start" on Philly.Com

Penn's new engineering dean is off to a flying start

Vijay Kumar’s public profile rose with a TED Talk that included “agile aerial robots.” The robots rose, too, at the talk’s end.
Vijay Kumar’s public profile rose with a TED Talk that included “agile aerial robots.” The robots rose, too, at the talk’s end.
 
Vijay Kumar’s public profile rose with a TED Talk that included “agile aerial robots.” The robots rose, too, at the talk’s end.
 

Before he became dean of the University of Pennsylvania's engineering school this summer, Vijay Kumar did more than teach, research, and publish in journals: He brought the small, quick, responsive flying robots his lab developed to an influential public, posting videos on websites.

Starting in 2010, Kumar's buzzing little four-propeller ships, winging out of his Levine Hall lab into the world, scored hundreds of thousands of hits on Gizmodo and YouTube. Lexus, the luxury-car maker, worked balletic flights of quadcopters built by KMel Robotics, a firm started at Penn, into a kinetic series of TV ads called "Swarm."

Kumar's public profile rose with his 16-minute TED Talk on applied air robotics in 2012. He reviewed the components of unmanned aircraft, contrasted familiar, exotic and scaled systems, scanned the math, then unleashed a gang of copters built by his students Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger. The two-ounce, four-rotor ships rose from steaming wrappings, hovered over a band stage, and played the "James Bond Theme" on keyboard, strings, and drums.

That got the attention of the drone-and-robot set. "He did a good job of presenting both a popular front and an academic front," says Charles Bergan, the vice president of engineering who oversees robotics at Qualcomm Inc., the San Diego-based wireless-communications maker. "We checked the technology-oriented blogs, then his academic work and his engagements. We saw these guys are the best in flight control."

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