MIT scientists design a drone that draws on your command

Art and technology are considered to be two very opposite disciplines that attract different types of people. When the pair come together, though, the results can be stunning. Just check out this drone, created by the Fluid Interface Group at MIT, that can draw on command.

MIT calls its invention the flying pantograph, an apt description when you consider how the system works. The pantograph was created in 1603 by Christopher Scheiner, who used the device to make a copy of drawings. The instrument has a pointer at one end that is used to trace over an existing drawing, while the other end has a pen that makes a copy.

The drone version works in a similar way, using a person with a pen on one end that is connected to a pen-equipped drone on the other. In the flying pantograph, an individual holding the pen can draw on a table or other surface while the drone mimics the movements on an output canvas. The drone is programmed with motion dynamics and artificial intelligence, allowing it to add its own flair and become an “expression agent” for the remote artist.

The flying pantograph is the epitome of the link between mind and machine, technology and artistic expression. “The drone, a floating machine, is relying on a slim chance of stabilization acquired by battling the vortex of air, the pressure, and friction on the canvas surface, and the capricious mind of the human artist,” write the MIT team.

The first version of the drone, Panto 1, was less powerful, communicating directly with the computers that controlled its flight. Version 2 added a more robust processing system to the drone body that allows it to communicate more efficiently with the artist. This improved real-time, two-way communication makes its possible for the user to see what the drone is doing and respond accordingly. In this mode, the artist can move the pen slowly to add long, precise strokes, or purposefully move the pen faster than the drone can respond, creating a canvas of unfinished strokes that adds an organic touch to the final composition.

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