Tiny Drones Create Dot Drawings of Grace Kelly, Che Guevara

Montreal-based McGill University’s School of Computer Science has created a program in which tiny drones create dot drawings – an artistic technique known as stippling.

Professor Paul Kry and his students have teamed up to create complex algorithms to program the drones to apply each payload of ink accurately and efficiently; even very slight air currents can toss the featherweight drones off course, explains the university in a news release.

The quadcopters, which are small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, are outfitted with a miniature arm that holds a tiny bit of ink-soaked sponge. As they hover near the surface to be painted, internal sensors and a motion-capture system help position them to dab ink in the right places.

So far, says McGill, the flying robots have rendered – on paper – portraits of Alan Turing, Grace Kelly and Che Guevara, among others. Each drawing is composed of a few hundred to a few thousand black dots of varying sizes.

The university says the work was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Eventually, larger drones could be deployed to paint murals on hard-to-reach outdoor surfaces, including curved or irregular facades, Kry says.

“There’s this wonderful mural festival in Montreal, and we have giant surfaces in the city that end up getting amazing artwork on them,” he says. “If we had a particularly calm day, it would be wonderful to try to do something on a larger scale like that.”


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