Synchronized flying robots could paint pictures in the sky (w/ Video)

In the Flyfire project, large numbers of micro helicopters with LEDs act as moving smart pixels, performing elaborate synchronized motions that create an elastic display. Credit: MIT SENSEable City Lab.

( -- In a new MIT project called Flyfire, tiny robotic helicopters with LEDs can act as flying pixels, moving together to create transient images in three-dimensional space. If it sounds like something out of a Disney animation, it sort of is.

"It's like when Winnie the Pooh hits a beehive: a swarm of bees comes out and chases him while changing its configuration to resemble a beast," said E Roon Kang, a research fellow at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab who is leading the project. "In Flyfire, each bee is essentially a pixel that emits colored light and reconfigures itself into different forms."

This short video shows the possibilities MIT envisions for Flyfire.

The Flyfire project, a collaboration between the SENSEable City Lab and the Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory (ARES Lab), is made possible due to recent advances in battery technology and wireless control. The researchers’ goal is to transform any ordinary space into a highly immersive and interactive display environment through the use of flying “smart pixels,” or robots with LEDs. In the Flyfire concept, of robotic are remotely controlled and self-organize themselves to perform elaborate synchronized choreographies.

The robotic pixels can be manipulated in real time using precise, self-stabilizing technology developed by the ARES Lab. While current technology enables the researchers to simultaneously control just a handful of robotic helicopters, they hope to scale up to “very large numbers” of synchronized helicopters.

The researchers envision the technology being used for 3D public displays, since the images can be experienced from far away and from all directions. As shown in the video, the flying pixels can generate a variety of unique free-form displays in the sky, such as spelling words, drawing pictures, and visually displaying any kind of information.

In a press release, the labs note that Flyfire could also be a step toward “smart dust,” which is a futuristic wireless network made of tiny, synchronized devices the size of dust.

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Feb 19, 2010
a replacement for fireworks? maybe some microwave emitted power.

Feb 19, 2010
I envision the first ones to use this would be gimmicky performing artists like the Black Eyed Peas, Lady GaGa, Janet Jackson, Madonna... Who else? That should be fun, unless someone loses control of the swarm and they all descend upon the audience. Then everyone gets a souvenir. It would also be a great display at the Olympics.

As for that "smart dust," isn't that part of the chemtrail experiments for increasing cellphone telemetry? What happens when we breathe in "smart dust?"

Feb 19, 2010
Agreed, the remote microwave powering would give the swarmbots a much needed lift to weight ratio that would be vital to support much of its surface with leds so that the bot still would be visible as a clear pixel when flyin 100 m overhead, without much of bulke wings rotors, that would distract, unless advances in tiny supercapacotors and ultrabright efficient leds, makes locally stored energy possible without much overhead.

Perhaps even the microwave could induce the light itself by coupling to a EM reflector/convertor area imbedded in the surface of the swarmbot, consisting of metamaterial nanostructures such as quantumdots.

Feb 19, 2010
Also one could use the same microwave to pass information.directional control to the swarm. We already have home solutions for internet using the power main wallsockets, where a lower voltage wave (network data) is modulated over a high voltage wave (current for lighting/heating/cooling/tv etc), so using an all in one wave for swarmbots seems within the realm of possibillity.

Feb 20, 2010
The ceiling in Hogwarts main hall. Except hogwarts it could be Citi Field and instead of sky it could beer ads and game chants. with rogue advertising clouds floating in and out. Or they could use one of these little bots on the millennium falcon as a jedi training tool.

Feb 21, 2010
Hmm imagine when they use it in nanomaterial and computer software, i see 3ds max in real 3D , and think the bubles could be pixels, and you are modeling by your own hand in air, damn it's already exist and its call Plasticine

Feb 21, 2010
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Feb 28, 2010
Apparently my "what about wind?" comment was to cryptic for some readers and physorg stuff.

The wind you see is a problem for lightweight helicopters, even moderate wind will likely make flying in close formation impossible. This makes displays using them not practical outdoors contrary to what the article claims.

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