Flyfire Micro-Helicopter Display

Flyfire is research project from MIT's SENSEable City Lab and Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory (ARES Lab). Flyfire uses remotely-controlled, self-organizing micro-helicopters; each one has small LEDs and can act as a "smart pixel".

Under digital control, the tiny UAVs can perform "elaborate and synchronized choreographies" in three-dimensional space.

With the self-stabilizing and precise controlling technology from the ARES Lab, the motion of the pixels is adaptable in real time. The Flyfire canvas can transform itself from one shape to another or morph a two-dimensional photographic image into an articulated shape... "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 the SENSEable City Lab who is leading the project.

Using the self-stabilizing and precise controlling technology developed by the ARES Lab, the motion of the pixels is adaptable in real time. The Flyfire canvas can transform itself from one shape to another or bring a two-dimensional photographic image into an articulated shape.

(Flyfire video)

"Today we are able to simultaneously control a handful of micro helicopters, but with Flyfire we are aiming to scale up and reach very large numbers," said Emilio Frazzoli, head of the ARES Lab.

These little micro-helicopters remind me of the aerostat monitors from Neal Stephenson's 1995 novel The Diamond Age. These flying surveillance mites could form autonomous formations, like the dog pod grid defensive formation. Now, you just hang a little light on each one...

I was also reminded of the identificators from Jack Vance's 1964 novel The Star King (note their behavior when disturbed):

Three doors doors along the corridor Gersen came upon a free-floating identificator of luminous blue letters, which read: GYLE WARWEAVE, and below: PROVOST....

He stepped forward; the door slipped aside, quick as a camera shutter; the identificator broke into individual letters which scattered like frightened fish, to regroup after he had passed.
(Read more about Vance's identificators)

From Flyfire; see also the MIT Flyfire press release.

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