Skip to main content

Spray-painting drones may soon beautify a construction site near you

Drones at work on a Paint By Drone mural
Carlo Ratti Associati
Massive spray-painted murals are being planned for Berlin, Germany, and Turin, Italy. Rather than employ human interns to do the dirty work, it will be created by drones.

The aptly named Paint By Drone is the brainchild of Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Laboratory and founder of the Carlo Ratti Associati an innovation and design studio leading the project.

Related Videos

“Drones are becoming an increasingly common part of our everyday life,” Ratti told Digital Trends. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 1.3 million quadcopters will by in the skies by 2020. “Given this evolving scenario, the idea of employing drones in different contexts is something that has accompanied us in several projects,” he added.

At the MIT Senseable City Laboratory, Ratti lead a project called Skycall, which developed drones as tour guides around the university campus.

“With Skycall, we investigated two main development paths of UAV technology,” Ratti said, “a drone’s capacity to autonomously sense and perceive its environment, and its ability to interface and interact with people. Paint By Drone project represents a step forward in this research path.”

With Paint By Drone, Ratti hopes to take that research one step forward by bringing the UAVs into our public space, where humans can engage with them directly and the drones can hopefully beautify our surroundings.

Each drone will be equipped with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key) paints and spray as directed by digital submissions from an app.

“The great thing about this project is that the size of the canvas is not fixed,” Ratti said. “The city itself can be the canvas! For the first installations, we are focusing on using Paint By Drone for building sites and scaffold sheeting. However, over the next few months we are planning to develop a plug-and-play system that will allow the technology to be deployed in the blink of an eye on virtually any vertical surface.”

Ratti suggested that such measures could make it easier and safer to create public art. (To avoid accidents, a net will hang between the drones and the crowd.)

Of course, not everyone sees graffiti as a good thing so there will no doubt be backlash should Ratti try to roll out his idea on a citywide scale. But he’s nonetheless enthusiastic about the potential to engage the public.

“Paint By Drone offers a new perspective on street art and shows a new way to engage with the built environment,” he said. “What we call ‘phygital graffiti’ is the idea of leveraging drones and, more in general, digital technologies to create participatory works of public art.”

Editors' Recommendations

Smellicopter is an autonomous, scent-chasing drone made with real moth antennas

There's no doubt that 2020 has been a strange year. So strange, in fact, that the idea of an obstacle-dodging, autonomous cyborg drone that uses a real live moth antenna to track down smells doesn’t sound too much like weird science fiction. That’s probably a good thing, too, because it’s something that researchers from the University of Washington have actually built. And they’ve called it Smellicopter, because ... why the heck not?

“The ability to detect and localize odors has a vast range of potential applications,” Thomas Daniel, a UW professor of biology, told Digital Trends. “Essentially, anywhere we might use dogs for tracking or sensing odors is a potential application for the Smellicopter. It has ... the unique advantage that it flies and can navigate in complex environments. Moreover, it avoids putting dogs or humans in harm’s way. Everything from detecting gas leaks to disease outbreaks in crops to the volatiles emitted from [improvised explosive device] are potential areas of application.”

Read more
Meet the MIT artist who builds with fungus and paints with swarms of drones
carlo ratti mit artist ratti3

If you were walking through a park and saw four drones painting a giant, 46-foot graffiti mural, you would probably stop and gawk for a while. But in order to get a full sense of the planning, philosophizing, and historical cross-checking that went into such a wild display of techno-art, you'd have to sit down for a talk with the man behind it: Artist, designer, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carlo Ratti.

So that's exactly what we did. Digital Trends caught up with Ratti to discuss his past and future projects, and how he manages to blur the lines between architecture, engineering, and digital art.

Read more
Drone deliveries may consume 10 times as much energy as van deliveries in cities
army use lasers power drones drone getty images

Drone-based deliveries have been promised for years now, and are just now starting to (no pun intended) get off the ground. There are plenty of reasons to be excited at the prospect of flying robots bringing your latest online delivery, but one that is frequently mentioned is the idea that drones will remove a certain number of delivery vehicles from the road, leading to a positive environmental impact.

Not so fast, claims a recent study carried out by a researcher at Martin Luther Universitat in Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Having run the numbers, Thomas Kirschstein, from MLU’s department of Production and Logistics, thinks drone deliveries could actually wind up consuming a whole lot more energy than alternative vehicular options, especially in dense urban areas. Kirschstein’s simulations suggest that drones could use around 10 times as much energy as electric vans, and significantly more than diesel vans (which use twice the energy of electric vans).

Read more