The Ars Electronica Quadcopter Swarm was one of the main attractions at the voestalpine Klangwolke 2012. Since then the “Spaxels” project has conquered the entire world.
More than 90,000 visitors were watching as the first outdoor formation flight of almost 50 quadcopters set a world record at the voestalpine Klangwolke 2012 in Linz, Austria. The Ars Electronica Quadcopter Swarm SPAXELS is a visualization technology created by the Ars Electronica Futurelab and it continues to be developed further.
What are Spaxels?
The Ars Electronica Futurelab has been developing Spaxels for several years now. The term “spaxel” is derived from “pixels in space”; spaxels are visual elements positioned freely and dynamically in space, rather than statically placed in a matrix. To date, human visual concepts (e.g., screens) have been based on static pixels, mapped on a 2D matrix. Spaxels lend dynamism and a third dimension to visualization, opening up previously uncharted visual possibilities.
In principle, a spaxel is simply a point of light which can be freely positioned in space. At the moment quadcopters, also known as civilian drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are used to carry the LED light systems. Several quadcopters are combined to form a dynamic swarm in order to create visual images in the sky. Each individual drone is directed to its predetermined position by central flight control on the airfield. The quadcopter’s actual positioning data is constantly transferred to the ground station which has to react in real time. The individual flight objects have no knowledge of the position of their fellow drones. Therefore, it’s a huge challenge to control a swarm and avoid collisions. The complexity of the task multiplies as the number of spaxels increases. The special flight control software needed to direct a quadcopter swarm in real time via a central control was developed by the Ars Electronica Futurelab itself.
Spaxels conquer the world
After the success at the voestalpine Klangwolke 2012, Linz’s Quadcopter Swarm has been active at music visualizations and events around the world:
In March 2013 at the film premiere of Star Trek in London, thirty quadcopters animated the legendary Starfleet logo in the sky near Tower Bridge. At the opening of the new campus at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, the spaxels took to the sky in the southern hemisphere for the first time in August 2013.
More information and further projects: http://www.aec.at/spaxels/en/
Future and vision
In addition to event projects, the development team is primarily focused on developing the spaxel technology further. The goal is to make the visualized objects more realistic. This requires that the pixels be miniaturized (vision: as small as a “real” pixel). At the same time, the number of spaxels in flight should be constantly increased and this represents a particular challenge; the larger the number of spaxels, the greater the difficulty of controlling and coordinating the light drones within the swarm.
There are not only technical hurdles to be overcome; the artistic potential offered by this new technology also needs to be explored. One possible application would be to create a relationship between the pixels and their environment, for example, enabling a planned motorway bridge to be visualized in its intended location.
"We are convinced that this concept will revolutionize computer technology."