A four-foot-long helicopter using artificial intelligence (AI) flew itself pilot-free over Stanford University in California, yesterday.

Possible future uses for the technology include investigating wildfires, or playing a role in a military operation, such as spying or dealing with attacks from heavily-armed action men.

It uses an AI system developed by computer scientists at Stanford and was able to teach itself to fly by mimicking the aerobatics of a radio-controlled helicopter.

Good learner

"These helicopters can fly manoeuvres at the edge of what a helicopter is capable of," Adam Coates, a PhD student who worked on the project told Reuters.

The helicopters, which are still under development, are guided by a ground-based computer and can perform complex moves similar to that of their full-sized cousins.

Much like the unpiloted balsa airplane we all had as a child, except that the helicopter performed all the above deliberately and without coming to its final rest in a neighbour's wall.

Each helicopter costs around $4,000 (£2,000) and comes with an accelerometer, gyroscope and a magnetometer to work out its position and acceleration, and either a GPS or two ground-based cameras to determine its location.

The group have no plans for redeveloping the Action Man Scorpion tank. Yet.