So, we can point lights at different stuff and map projections to surfaces and do all that good stuff. You know what’s even more fun? Flying the lights around on helicopters.

In a dazzling visual display of abstract spectacle, Quadrotors – in this case, small, mobile four-rotor helicopters – buzz about like a precision ballet team of UFOs. Apparently none other than friend-of-the-site Memo Akten was involved, among others (full credit to the whole team after the jump). And there’s quite a bit of technology required to make these helicopters semi-autonomous, including some creative coding in OpenFrameworks and a high-accuracy tracking system in the form of a Vicon.

In an age of concerns about drones and the like, the whole thing might seem a bit ominous. (Happily, none of these fun-loving creatures is made out of a dead cat.) But perhaps that makes this the perfect time for such a discussion: exercises such as this can both de-mystify and aestheticize such technologies, shining new (ahem) light on the topic.

It’s worth watching the whole film, as a particularly moving moment comes as beams of light hit mirrors.

You also get to see a single proof-of-concept technique raised to the level of complete performance. The core technologies that drive this drama were seen way back in 2010, in the combination of the robot helicopter with motion capture.

Details of that first experiment, via YouTube:

Control of precise aggressive maneuvers with an autonomous quadrotor helicopter. This is a small autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Demonstrations of flips, flight through windows, and quadrotor perching are shown. Work done at the GRASP Lab, University of Pennsylvania.

Here is a link to the paper:

And the specs and all-star cast for this project:

A troupe of 16 quadrotors (flying robots) dance to and manipulate sound and light at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase 2012.

Event concept created by
Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith, Saatchi & Saatchi

Juliette Larthe

Show Directors
Marshmallow Laser Feast
Memo Akten, Robin McNicholas, Barney Steel

Quadrotor Design & Development
KMel Robotics

Sound Design
Oneohtrix Point Never

Production Supervisor
Holly Restieaux

Marshmallow Laser Feast team
Raffael Ziegler, Rob Pybus, Devin Matthews, James Medcraft

Typography & Design
Farrow Design

Set Design
Sam & Arthur

Thanks to Vicon for the tracking system and also to Francois Wunshcel, Johnny Milmer, Andreas Muller, Marek Bereza, Erik Sjodin and the openFrameworks community.

The New Directors’ Showcase 2012
Brought to you by Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide

Filmed by: James Medcraft, Sandra Ciampone, Mike Tombeur