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Watching umbrella drones take to the sky is weirdly beautiful

Drones are a whole lot of things: badass photographers, the delivery tools of the future, sometimes ethically troubling weapons of war. One phrase that’s rarely used to describe them? Beautiful dancers.

But that’s what artist and technologist Alan Kwan, a student in MIT’s Art, Culture and Technology program, wanted when he set out to create an amazing aerial drone display — featuring flying umbrellas that look more like something out of Mary Poppins than one of the world’s leading technical institutions.

“I wanted to use drone technology to create a kind of aerial performance,” Kwan tells Digital Trends. “I feel like a lot of people are doing something similar, but they tend to be there to emphasize the skill of the operator — or to be flashy, more like firework or laser shows. I wanted to try and do something that was more subtle and, in its own way, emotional. I love the idea of creating animation in the sky, where there’s a story told through motion. I hoped that audiences would look at these drones as living flying creatures, interacting with one another.”

Kwan isn’t a professional engineer, and his concept of combining umbrellas with drones turned out to be a technical challenge — but we definitely think the end result, commissioned by the University of Applied Arts in Vienna for its Digital Synesthesia Research Project (DSRP), was worth the trouble. When the umbrellas take to the sky, there’s something indisputably moving about the whole thing.

Interestingly, drone regulations almost stopped it from happening.

“One thing that interested me was how hard it was to find a venue that would let us stage this,” Kwan tells us. “A lot of people have this conception that drones are dangerous right now. It’s an interesting problem right now if you want to put on this kind of artistic display. It’s still something that isn’t as easy as I hope it will one day become.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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