Screens in Space

A mind-bogglingly awesome new project from MIT called Flyfire hopes to use large, precision-controlled clouds of micro-helicopters, each carrying a color-coordinated LED, to create massive, three-dimensional information displays in space.

[Image: Via Flyfire].

Each helicopter is "a smart pixel," we read. "Through precisely controlled movements, the helicopters perform elaborate and synchronized motions and form an elastic display surface for any desired scenario." Emergency streetlights, future TV, avant-garde rural entertainment, and even acts of war.

Watch the video:

Instead of a drive-in cinema, in other words, you could simply be looking out from the windscreen of your car at a massive cloud of color-coordinated, precision-timed, drone micro-helicopters, each the size and function of a pixel. Imagine planetarium shows with this thing!
    The Flyfire canvas can transform itself from one shape to another or morph a two-dimensional photographic image into an articulated shape. The pixels are physically engaged in transitioning images from one state to another, which allows the Flyfire canvas to demonstrate a spatially animated viewing experience.
Imagine web-browsing through literal clouds of small flying pixels, parting and weaving in the air in front of you like fireflies (or imagine training fireflies to act as a web browser). You're in a university auditorium one day when, instead of delivering her projected slideshow, your professor simply remote-controls a whirring vortex of ten thousand flying micro-dots. Digital 3D cinema is nothing compared to this murmuration of light.

Channeling Tim Maly, we might even someday see a drone-swarm of LED-augmented, artificially intelligent nano-helicopters flying off into the desert skies of the American southwest, on cinematic migration routes blurring overhead. On a lonely car drive through northern Arizona when a film-cloud flies by...

An insane emperor entertains himself watching precision-controlled image-clouds, some of which are distant satellites falling synchronized through space.

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Blogger Ironichles said...

Well no, not quite. This is a video where they propose what they would like to work on. Mostly likely to be shown to funders. It would be the same as making a video about a flying saucer you're working on and pretending you actually have that in your basement. I'm not saying what is shown in the video isn't possible, I'm just surprised at the amount of websites that take this as a finish product.

February 22, 2010 10:27 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

The fact that this isn't built—and that the video is actually slightly boring—in no way affects my enthusiasm for the idea, Martin; in that regard, I'm not actually sure what your point is.

February 22, 2010 10:32 AM  
Blogger Ironichles said...

The funding climate of the NSF, DoD, IES, ONR, etc is not anymore built on expectation control, it is instead based on damage control. Most grant proposals that are written are way beyond what is technologically possible to do in the time alotted with the money available.

That's not really the problem, the problem is people on an airplane who complain their wireless doesn't work even though it had not even been technologically possible to make that happen days earlier.,8599,1885790,00.html

Instead of being appreciative at what is available we complain about all the things we don't have yet. Not only that but we've started to demand anything we can imagine and get upset if we don't get it. This video further helps that illusion.

February 22, 2010 10:45 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

Swarms of micro-drones are already used for military purposes.

I can't build up any feelings of excitement for this project. It just seems like a monumental waste of resources to me. What happens to all of these things at the end of their lifespan?

February 22, 2010 11:04 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

What happens to all of these things at the end of their lifespan?

Dead films go crashing into the sea.

Martin, I definitely sense that there are problems internal to the processes of scientific and technological funding today, but that seems outside the scope of my own interest in this project. It is the idea that something like a swarm of birds could actually light up and produce choreographed images in space that blows me away—not the grant application process by which such a vision could be realized.

Also, I do agree with Adam that this presents another way for electronic waste to end up in a landfill somewhere; but, again, the idea of cloud-images moving through space is what is exciting to me here, and the future environmental impact (or military misuse) of the technology is for another conversation. After all, if these weren't destined for the landfill someday, we would still be left with an ability to replace cinemas with open-air shows of precision-controlled drone-pixels—and that seriously amazes me.

February 22, 2010 11:14 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Also, I don't mean to belabor the point here (though I suppose that's what this site does best...), but I'm genuinely awestruck imagining things like cities that might someday forego their annual 4th of July firework display to send aloft a massive cloud of micro-helicopters instead, moving lights twinkling and shifting through different images in the sky.

It would be instantly Disneyfied, of course, and probably sold to advertisers, but the artistic—and even architectural/ornamental—possibilities of these things just astonishes me. Films, hovering above forests. Story-telling clouds in the Sahara.

February 22, 2010 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Crusty the Clown said...

I get a strong urge to OCCUPY these moving, pulsating, data laden swarms. To be inside an interactive moving image that surrounds me, follows me wherever I go... Which leads me to hope that these little creatures have collision detection sensors, so they don't take out my eye. Perhaps some day we'll be surrounded by our own double layered nanobot clouds (mechanical mist), projecting our social moods outward while providing inhabitants with a private show inside.

I can't wait to free myself from the desktop computer that has enslaved me so.

February 22, 2010 2:56 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Crusty, it could be amazing, like living inside a sort of hovering web browser. A halo of lights and images.

February 23, 2010 12:41 AM  
Anonymous sportsbabel said...

It could be amazing, or it could be like an always-on television that one can never escape. One shot of dystopia to go with your two shots of unbridled enthusiasm, shake and serve over ice.

Now, if you can explain to me how such an invention offers better opportunities for sustainable (and dare we say political) communities, and then I might take a lowball of the utopia neat.

February 24, 2010 8:45 AM  
Anonymous GeoDave said...

Crusty, Geoff, Read "Rainbow's End" By Verner Vinge. He writes about tech that isn't too different from what you are describing.

March 07, 2010 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when will it be ready for pornography?

March 10, 2010 1:12 PM  

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