Case studies: ‘The Drone Aviary’

PROJECT DATE 1st April to 19th July 2015

Project Location – London Victoria & Albert Museum

Project Description / Concept

The Drone Aviary – an R&D project from The Superflux Lab – is an investigation of the social, political and cultural potential of drone technology as it enters civil space. Through a series of ongoing installations, films and publications, the project aims to give a glimpse into a near-future city co-habit with ‘intelligent’ semi autonomous, networked, flying machines. Exploring the physical, digital, spatial, and civic complexities of drone technology.

We were pleased to be invited by the V&A to present an installation of the project within the Civic Objects display at their ground-breaking show ‘All Of This Belongs To You’, running from 1st April to 19th July 2015. Our installation appeared in the Rapid Response Collecting, within the 20th century design exhibits, in the space adjacent to the smashed Snowden hard drive and laptop lent by the Guardian.

Drone-Infrastructure-Map

The installation at the V&A contained a family of 5 drones and an accompanying film. Each drone is designed to be symbolic of the convergence of wider social and tech trends with specific tasks and functions that are gaining popularity amongst drone enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.

  1. Madison, The Flying Billboard: This is an advertising drone, a hovering display platform, which can swoop, scan and hunt consumer demographics. It uses sophisticated facial recognition to gain feedback on the effectiveness of its content and to tailor advertisements to the interests of those within its vicinity.
  1. Newsbreaker, The Media Drone: Supported by algorithmic monitoring news, emergency services and social media in real-time, these nimble devices push the boundaries for what has become known as High Frequency Journalism, helping feed our growing hugger for the very latest breaking news stories as it happens. As it films and streams news in real-time, story writing algorithms parse imagery, audio, web and radio traffic into rapidly growing, and continually edited, column inches.
  1. Nightwatchman, The Surveillance Drone: A highly mobile data acquisition device used by everyone from local councils to law enforcement agencies. By securely connecting to a centralised database The Nightwatchman is able to amass and utilise huge amounts of location and subject specific information assisting in everything from documenting civil offences to detecting potential terror threats.
  1. RouteHawk, Traffic Management Assistant: This drone fulfills two primary functions: firstly with its high brightness LED display and powerful 8 motor design the RouteHawk can move quickly to problem situations and provide dynamic warnings to approaching drivers. Secondly its LIDAR speed detector and ANPR camera allow the RouteHawk to efficiently log and transmit traffic violations to relevant penalty enforcement departments, often allowing a unit to pay for itself within a month.
  1. FlyCam Instadrone: A highly accessible, low cost, user-friendly platform with true ‘smart’ style functionality. Quickly superseding the Selfie stick as todays must have life-logging and social media tool, the FlyCam allows anyone with a smartphone to share unforgettable memories from the clouds to the cloud using the Instadrone app. Additionally, its patented context aware algorithm means advertisers can deliver messages to customer when and where it counts.

 

Drone Aviary from Superflux on Vimeo.

The Drone Aviary reveals fleeting glimpses of the city from the perspective of drones.

It explores a world where the ‘network’ begins to gain physical autonomy. Drones become protagonists, moving through the city, making decisions about the world and influencing our lives in often opaque yet profound ways.

This film is part of The Drone Aviary Project, by Superflux, which investigates the social, political and cultural potential of drone technology as it enters civil space.

It has been awarded the Grants for the Arts from the Arts Council England. To find out more about the project visit: superflux.in/blog/the-drone-aviary

In the film, the drones become protagonists, revealing fleeting glimpses of the city from their perspective, as they continuously collect data and perform tasks. It hints at a world where the ‘network’ begins to gain physical autonomy, moving through and making decisions about the world, influencing our lives in often opaque yet profound ways. A speculative map highlights where physical and digital infrastructures merge as our cities become the natural habitat for ‘smart’ technologies from drones and wearable computers through to driverless cars.

Why drones?

As we have seen, the word “drone” is a complex, heavily loaded term; simultaneously a mascot of risk-transfer militarism, and an artifact of celebrity obsession, a tool for important journalistic endeavors and a DIY enthusiast’s dream. Whilst the focus is on innovation, there is little contemplation on how the presence of these machines will change our lived experience of the urban environment, and the way we understand and interact with their increasing autonomy. And that is precisely the ambition of the Drone Aviary project: to explore the physical, digital, spatial, and civic complexities of this technology. In our work we use the term ‘drones’ to suggest partial or full autonomy, although our bigger motivation is to use this technology as a vehicle to reflect on the wider consequences of how personal robotics might integrate into our everyday lives.

We also want to use this opportunity to investigate the technology not just as a ‘machine’ with all its technical capabilities, but to explore the vision it will have, the space and geography it will occupy, the network it will operate within, the physical and digital infrastructures it will use, and the legal and regulatory frameworks that bind it.

Project Team

– Anab Jain is Founder and Director of Superflux. Born and educated in India, with an MA in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art, Anab founded Superflux in 2009. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA New York, Tate Modern and the National Museum of China. The team included designers, hardware and software technologists, model-makers, graphic designers, animators and writers.

Budget / Sponsorship

This project was realised with the generous support of Arts Council England

Exhibited at FabMind, 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo, Japan.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Issues / Challenges

The big challenge of understanding this technology starts the minute you get them to fly. As soon as they start flying, there is a complete and total collapse of the distance between us and the airspace surrounding us, as the drone becomes a new kind of disembodied prosthetic, allowing us to watch over the world with a little controller. Extreme acclivity can be exhilarating. It can make you feel both alone and unrivalled. Standing with your feet on the ground, the tips of your body push up and high into the sky, entering a state of temporary amaranthine. But this can also be simultaneously terrifying, as the drone can behave erratically, either because of your own incompetency or technical failure, and can result in damage, from destroying expensive equipment to causing harm or injury to people and property.

Learning & Future Potential

Moving forward, we continue to look for a venue with an open space where some of our drones can fly, moving within feet of visitors, giving a visceral, tangible experience of interacting with these flying machines. Whilst the flight is not critical to our work, we do believe the tangibility of the flight experience will play a bigger role in provoking thought and reflection of the actual technology and its implications. Meanwhile we will continue to develop work in this space, expanding to include other autonomous technologies and their changing relationships to us and our lived environment.

Superflux Magazine: http://www.superflux.in/blog/superflux-issue1

Documentation

Blog: http://www.superflux.in/blog/the-drone-aviary

Video: https://vimeo.com/124292043

Credits:

V&A – http://www.vam.ac.uk/

21_21 Design Sight – http://www.2121designsight.jp/en/

Project Leads: Jon Ardern and Anab Jain

Design and Prototyping: Jon Flint, Jon Ardern, Dillon Frohliech, Ian Hutchinson, Yosuke Ushigome

Drone Fictions: Tim Maughan

Visual Designers: Katarina Medic, Georgina Bourke

Motion Designers: Dimitris Papadimitriou, Alexandra Fruhstorfer

Sound Designers: Sam Conran, Ian Rawes

Technologists: Jon Ardern, Dan Williams, Mike Vanis

with Philipp Ronnenberg, Elvira Grob, Gejin Gao, Tobias Revell, Sarah Gold, Lisa Shakespeare.

Videoography: Jon Ardern, Jon Flint, Ian Hutchinson

Script & Editing: Anab Jain

Drone Models: Jon Ardern, Jon Flint, Ian Hutchinson, Dome Studio, Yosuke Ushigome

Visual Design: Katarina Medić

Motion Design: Dimitris Papadimitriou, Alexandra Fruhstorfer, Laurence Rose Mencé

Sound Design: Sam Conran, Gwaith Swn, Ian Rawes, London Sound Survey

Footage Credits: Traffiko, Geoweb3d, Phoenix Lidar Systems, Cedric Guillemet

Acknowledgements: Kieron Long, Corinna Gardner, V&A London, Tim Maughan, Georgina Bourke, Dillon Froelich, Tobias Revell, Dan Williams, David Benque, Elvira Grob, Sarah Gold, Anuradha Reddy, Rowena Ardern, Arlo Ardern, Arlo Ardern, Carolina and Mana, Mariko, Isa and Marty

Next page in the toolkit: Case studies: ‘Meet Your Creator’