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Flyfire: mini-helicopters create futuristic 3D display

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February 21, 2010

Flyfire is a cloud of LED-carrying helicopters controlled in synchrony (Courtesy of  'MIT ...

Flyfire is a cloud of LED-carrying helicopters controlled in synchrony (Courtesy of 'MIT SENSEable City Lab)

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The basis of most 3D systems is to "trick" our eyes into believing that an image shown on a flat screen has three dimensions, but what if you could throw away the screen entirely! It sounds simply too far-fetched and impossible to choreograph, but that's exactly what researchers MIT's SENSEable City Lab and Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory (ARES Lab) have created with Flyfire - a cloud of LED-carrying micro-helicopters controlled in synchrony to show unique animated light displays in three-dimensional space.

Each "micro-helicopter" carries a small LED and is digitally-controlled and choreographed as a smart pixel that emits colored light. This is achieved using self-stabilizing and precise controlling technology developed by the ARES lab which allows the pixels to be controlled in real time. It has also been made possible by recent advances in battery technology and wireless control. The pixel is capable of displaying digital information such as 3D writing and pictures and rearranging itself several times in a performance before needing to recharge.

The Flyfire canvas can reorganize itself from one shape to another or bring a two-dimensional photographic image into a 3D form. "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, research fellow at SENSEable City Lab. "Unlike traditional displays that can only be seen from the front, Flyfire becomes a three dimensional immersive display that can be experienced from all directions," said team member Carnaven Chiu.

Flyfire was developed as a public space installation, and although currently SENSEable are capable of controlling a limited numbers of helicopters they are aiming to further develop the technology to control very large numbers for more ambitious displays and applications. They also suggest it could be a step towards 'smart dust' technology, a wireless network of tiny synchronized devices the size of dust.

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3 Comments

I wonder how many mini choppers they are currently working with? Two or three probably.It certainly is a wacky idea. Maybe they could use actual fireflies with a tiny brain implant to control their movements. That is my 'flight of fancy'. Does anyone remember sky sign writing with smoke from a bi-plane?

windykites1
22nd February, 2010 @ 05:39 am PST

looks confusing, they have to not only program the content but also the movement of those... dots.

Chris7527
23rd February, 2010 @ 04:06 pm PST

I see, so the pictures are an animation of what they would like to do.

Sort of a misleading article --"...with Flyfire - a cloud of LED-carrying micro-helicopters controlled in synchrony to show unique animated light displays in three-dimensional space."

This is a complete fabrication -- a lie. That what they would like to do but haven't yet done.

Shame on you Gizmag for printing misleading articles. Did News Corp buy you?

DemonDuck
6th March, 2010 @ 10:46 am PST
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