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MIT's Flyfire To Paint Images In the Sky Using Micro-Helicopters

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the bundles-of-led-joy dept.

Technology 65

@engadget mentions that a new project dubbed "Flyfire" at MIT is looking to launch a fleet of LED-equipped micro-helicopters and coordinate them in synchrony to create massive floating images. "By using LED-equipped drones the project pledges to build free-floating 3D displays, endowing them with enough smarts and positional awareness to organize themselves into an airborne canvas. It sounds deliciously exciting and challenging."

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65 comments

Batman? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202012)

Maybe this will save on energy costs of using super bright spotlights as Batman beacons.

Deliciously exciting?! (4, Insightful)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202310)

Sounds scary to me... Sounds more like we'll be followed by 'intelligent billboards'!

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (3, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202472)

Nothin' a bb gun wont cure.

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (2, Insightful)

Warhawke (1312723) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202516)

Brings new meaning to Ray Bradbury's "The Murderer":

Then, of course, the telephone's such a _convenient_ thing; it just sits there and _demands_ you call someone who doesn't want to be called. Friends were always calling, calling, calling me. Hell, I hadn't any time of my own. When it wasn't the telephone it was the television, the radio, the phonograph. When it wasn't the television or radio or the phonograph it was motion pictures at the corner theater, motion pictures projected, with commercials on low-lying cumulus clouds. It doesn't rain rain any more, it rains soapsuds.

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (1)

s2theg (1185203) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202600)

Imagine being on a date and getting "5 ways to impress her" ads.

Dude, think about it (1)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203600)

I think we've seen the future of Tool's [youtube.com] live shows.

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203658)

Yep, my thoughts exactly

Q. What purpose would this technology serve?
A. Joe Camel floating high above in 3D over our schools recruiting new customers to the ranks.

They my even be able to personalize this one day Minority Report fashion
" Joe slashdot geek, would you like a virtual prostitute today? Or maybe rent one of our new sexbots"

Yay! More lights fucking up the night sky! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203980)

Does anybody want to buy my telescope?

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (2, Funny)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204110)

I'm from Tennessee, and people around here enjoy many amateur engineering projects involving projectiles. You may have heard of something called a "potato gun."

I have a feeling free-floating billboards would spark a resurgence in their popularity.

Re:Deliciously exciting?! (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 4 years ago | (#31210462)

Don't worry. It won't work.

These things need power to keep flying. Currently the best batteries in terms of power/weight ratio are li-po. Li-po batters give you about 10 minutes flying time with a small chopper similar in size and weight to these things. Of course these will actually draw more power than that for the bright LEDs and more complex sensor/telemetry system.

Oh, and li-po batteries have some nasty problems. If you overcharge or try to draw too much power from them too quickly they explode. The plastic case blows apart and a molten lump of li-po comes flying out. On fire. And it sticks to things.

So when they paint them black (1)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202334)

and they start following me, my theories will be vindicated!

Please... DON'T. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202450)

Seiously, free floating, repositional advertising is not anything we need to see. I don't want to have "Coca-Cola" splashed, hovering in the air above Half Dome in Yosemite, or "Shoney's" hovering above the Mt. Rushmore Monument... Let those of us who do manage to get off the couch to escape to the great outdoors enjoy them.

Search'n'Rescue, Recovery, Salvage, and fencing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31204710)

I know most of us will be thinking about all the broken flying devices would be left littering the country-side because these things failed to adapt, but I can't wait until they're upgraded to cary loads greater than theirselves. It would be neat to see some even have an apparent class-system difference, how some have guns to fight-off birds attacking their formations, while others have arms that can link-up to some that are semi-broken in their stearing ability as to only embrace their battery apparatus for moar powah.

Watch Avatar in Full 3D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202464)

I'd watch Avatar on 3d helicopters. You'd need enough to fill in a football field.

Great for sports! (3, Interesting)

musicalmicah (1532521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202492)

Looks like it would be amazing for sports stadiums. It could even deliver crowd-hyping mascots to various sections of the stadium. I wonder how the power source and recharging issue would be handled, though.

Re:Great for sports! (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202596)

buzz kill. pay no attention to the rack sized power supply behind the curtain.

Re:Great for sports! (1)

sarlos (903082) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202682)

I say power them wirelessly -- turn the goal posts into Tesla coils and voila!

Re:Great for sports! (2, Informative)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204210)

turn the goal posts into Tesla coils and voila!

Yes this sounds like a wonderful way to reduce our idiot problem here in the states.

Re:Great for sports! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31205640)

kill yourself

Re:Great for sports! (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#31238818)

kill yourself

Only if I can drag you to hell with me AC.
We all know that's the only way anyone has ever won the game.

Induction (1)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205230)

I have a theory: landing pads that charge by induction! No need to have a human plug the thing in. No need to land so precisely that electrical contact is made. With enough charging stations, you could rotate units in and out much like the players on the field. (or bench. You get the idea.)

Re:Great for sports! (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206498)

I see Macy's (or rather, the company(s) that do their fourth of july stuff) as being a huge customer and early adopter.

You all aren't thinking nefarious enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202538)

With precise station keeping ability these could be outfitted with small mirrors. Put a thousand or two up and you could have a roving DEATH BEAM harnessing the deadly fusion pumped energy of the sun to fry us all like ants.

Already been done... (4, Funny)

RJFerret (1279530) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202630)

Why reinvent the wheel? Trying to put sheep out of business? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2FX9rviEhw [youtube.com]

-Randy

You forgot 'annoying as f**k' (3, Insightful)

northernfrights (1653323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202708)

"It sounds deliciously exciting and challenging"

Yeah, because a 300ft coke ad hovering in the sky above my house is going to be exhilarating...

Re:You forgot 'annoying as f**k' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202822)

And the epic sound of that. Those little buggers can be LOUD.

Zraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa oh look a coke advert.

Re:You forgot 'annoying as f**k' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202840)

The whole idea sucks if only because they used the phrase "deliciously exciting".

That's so not heterosexual.

Re:You forgot 'annoying as f**k' (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202908)

Especially when the swarm notices that you've learned to ignore it so it swoops down to 10 feet above your head.

Re:You forgot 'annoying as f**k' (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203030)

The hot exhaust-laden air has made me rather parched. What beverage might I consume that would relieve such thirst? I do believe I've seen the name of one such product very recently? Battery acid? No. Horse urine? Nope. Oh, yeah, an only slightly more revolting beverage - printed on the billboard hovering 10 feet above my head - Coca Cola.

Nah, I think I'll just shoot down the leader and all the others will follow. Then I'll go have a glass of water and retain the integrity of my skeletal structure.

bodily fluids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31204372)

Then I'll go have a glass of water and retain the integrity of my skeletal structure.

And I drink a lot of water, you know. I'm what you might call a water man, Jack - that's what I am. And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there's nothing wrong with my bodily fluids.

why ignore? shoot it down (1)

MikePlacid (512819) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205250)

Buy our Ad Blocking mini attack helicopter now!

Awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202780)

This will be great. Super cool helicopters with lights instead of rockets with explosions. Nerds have now taken over Independence day.

Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31202810)

where anything is possible and they have no clue about the amount of work involved. ;)

It seems they are mostly looking at the logistics of how to manage all these devices and make a cool display or whatever. While that is a cool problem to solve, the biggest hurdle they are going to face is getting those damn things to stay in one place. That's the core problem and I don't see that they have solved it, the rest of the stuff is just icing. Unfortunately kids tends to like the icing more than the cake so that's what they're starting with.

Currently it's pretty much impossible with current technology to get even one to stay within a space of 10 cubic feet or so. I can't imagine getting a whole bunch of them to do it. They are so incredibly sensitive to wind and air pressure. Just the motion from nearby units is going to be enough to send the others flying all sorts of directions and that's without the external weather effects.

I sort of wish they would just do it, design the system, build everything and send them up. Imagine watching them all crashing into each other, parts flying everywhere. Would be awesome.

I think they have their work cut out for them. I predict this project won't get very far. In 10 years they will either still be working on it or the project will be dead.

Re:Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (1)

flerchin (179012) | more than 4 years ago | (#31202968)

This.

Accurate submeter 3D positioning is quite hard.

Re:Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (2, Informative)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206004)

Accurate submeter 3D positioning is quite hard.

Hard but solved [csiro.au] .

Re:Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203340)

Aside from stabilization, I think the bigger problem they will have is the duration of flight. By the time they get the helicopter matrix up and stabilized they will all need to land and recharge. And if there is no self docking mechanism to recharge, you will need an army of people to plug the things in when they come raining down.

Re:Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (2, Insightful)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205924)

Fortunately some people are willing to think outside the square.

While that is a cool problem to solve, the biggest hurdle they are going to face is getting those damn things to stay in one place.

Individual units do not need to stay in the one absolute place. They need to stay in one place relative to the entire formation only. The formation can move around quite a bit.

I think they have their work cut out for them. I predict this project won't get very far. In 10 years they will either still be working on it or the project will be dead.

I guess you'll never start a challenging project then.

Re:Ah, the ethusiasm of youth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31210452)

Individual units do not need to stay in the one absolute place. They need to stay in one place relative to the entire formation only. The formation can move around quite a bit.

Er, yeah... Good luck with that. Seems like you don't have any experience trying to do something like this.

I guess you'll never start a challenging project then.

The best way to succeed when doing a challenging project is to solve the most fundamental issues first. Those would be the core issues that if not solved will doom the whole project. That's the difference between intelligence and wisdom (experience).

yeah, who needs those damn songbirds anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203006)

Those robins are always chirp chirp chirpin' away in the spring... wait until they fly into one of these helicopter swarms!
I can hardly wait when the late summer yellowjackets/hornets get annoyed by them and 50 of them attack one of these helicopters.

I guess I'll start carrying around a tennis racket to play "hit the helicopter"

easy display (2, Funny)

recharged95 (782975) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203010)

For the 1st physical prototype, they display a waterfall.

Just have them fly 50feet up, and let them malfunction (as expected in the first few prototypes) and fall and call it a success! Now that was easy.

Purpose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203216)

I see two purposes here:
1) Advertising
2) Psychological warfare*

* Many of the places we are fighting are filled with people that I think would freak out if they saw a swarm of these things coming at them.

Problems with airflow? (1)

daffy951 (546697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203378)

I'm just thinking they will get problems when trying to fly the helicopters in the airstream from others above them, won't they?

Re:Problems with airflow? (1)

gd2shoe (747932) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205390)

It's not just the downdraft below them. Think about it. You have a fluid (air) That is being sucked downward creating a pressure difference. High pressure below, and low pressure above. This will be offset by a flow of air around the blades and upward. A diagram would look a lot like a torus [wikipedia.org] .

There will be a downdraft that they will need to account for, but I don't think it will go very far. There will also be an updraft to the sides that they will need to adjust for. In other words, they can't get too close below another drone, or to the sides of one, before they start interacting.

Wind anyone? (2, Interesting)

SlashDev (627697) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203382)

I wonder how long before a gust of wind will disrupt the image...

Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203392)

Combine this with wireless power (like witricity or the stuff Intel is working on) and you can leave these guys up in the sky for a while. Now line them up and you got a roadway in the sky for your flying car.

Sounds familiar (1)

jeillah (147690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203446)

In Raymond Khoury's book The Sign some evil doers did almost the exact thing using smart nano particles or something. They used it to scare the hell out of the bible thumpers so they could get them all convinced it was the second coming. Read the book if you want to know how it turns out...

Oh The Horror (4, Funny)

VorpalRodent (964940) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203512)

This will be utterly destroyed by an angry mob the first time it gets hacked to display Goatse. Imagine not just disgusting a single person, but an entire football stadium.

Isn't this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31203576)

Almost the EXACT technology that quite a few conspiracy theorist believe will be employed to spoof the rapture/second coming of Mohammad (apologies, Muslims, if I mistakenly got your beliefs wrong) or pretty much anything else the government/cabal of super-elite rich guys want people to believe in so they can control them? It's call blue something or other... I don't remember much besides it requiring a really advanced form of airborne image projection.

Short Battery Life (1)

synthmob (1067848) | more than 4 years ago | (#31203750)

If you've ever played with one of these micro-flyers, you've noticed that the battery life is quite short --- so if they succeed, they won't succeed for long.

It's a bird, it's a plane, oh s#@t! (1)

handfullofsausage (1589435) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204032)

More space to run political ads. Just imagine Sarah Palin hovering above your head with unlimited campaign contributions in terms of advertising dollars going towards buying a zillion floating billboards. Remember people, do not panic. You can hurl, just don't panic.

And I thought geese were a problem! (1)

momdude (885280) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204088)

As a private pilot, I look forward to the day when someone plows through a cloud of these things at 125 knots and tests just how many of them it takes to bring down a Cessna - or a 747.

Terrorist attack! (1)

Fishbulb (32296) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204402)

Makes me think it'll have the same destiny as that TV show marketing gimmick where they setup little LED robots giving the finger that scared the bejeezus out of Boston and other cities because you could see the D batteries in it.

Pretty cool but seems like over kill for a display (1)

andzik (473140) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204658)

This swarm technology is pretty cool, and that aspect of the project has merit. However the idea of using this as a mobile aerial display seems like super over kill. If each unit is a pixel or a few pixels, you need hundreds or thousands flying all together, and able to hold station in the wind, imagine recovering them all for charging, loss from crashes...etc.

If you want a mobile aerial display it would be much cheaper and easier to do something like what was used in the opening of the Winter Olympics. Large hanging matrices of LED's. For bonus points use several in a stack to create the 3d effect. Hang all of this from a remote blimp, and you have a much cheaper, less technically challenging and stable platform for an outdoor aerial display capable of 3d images.

Leave it to MIT... (1)

Mr. McGibby (41471) | more than 4 years ago | (#31204938)

To spend lots of time talking about how cool their idea is, without actually doing it.

Please excuse the vulgarity of my comment, but (1)

TheDarkener (198348) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205100)

FUCK airborne advertisements.

And while we're on the subject, fuck public billboard ads, fuck the impulse isle when I just want to buy some milk for my son at the grocery store, and fuck every other invasive, "can't look away" advertising schemes ever invented. I'm so sick of being plundered by the commercial industry.

Is it too much to ask to look up, knowing you'll see the sky and not a Nike commercial? Jesus Christ.

Re:Please excuse the vulgarity of my comment, but (1)

chetbox (1335617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205352)

I just want to buy some milk for my son at the grocery store

Get a cow? Although, it looks like you already tried to apt-get one...

Something for MIT to look into (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31205448)

Those MIT guys and gals should get together with this guy-
http://vimeo.com/6194911

His heli uses GPS and can automatically fly to any desired point. It can lift a decent payload too.

This is Awesome. (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#31205574)

Pretty much all there is to say.

Science-Fiction writers used to go on about how we'd have giant holographs... turns out you can just use physically floating objects and paint images far more easily. Whoa.

Forget the Bat signal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31205698)

How long before someone makes the Dark Mark?

Re:Forget the Bat signal (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206534)

MIT already did that three years ago [mit.edu] , albeit in smaller scale.

Cosmos (1)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 4 years ago | (#31206670)

Finally we have a solution to the issue of light pollution inhibiting our view of the cosmos. Now we can simulate the starry night sky using tiny floating LED-clad robots.

All i can think of after reading this is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31211444)

Driving around hunting these down with an emp canon.

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