Out of the box: brainstorming drone uses

Project Daedalus began as an exploration of the potential of live streamed virtual reality using drones. This combination of technologies – drone technology, and virtual reality – aims to create immersive experiences from the viewpoint of the drone. While the fruition of research in this field may be some time in arriving, the idea of combining existing technologies with drones has led to some truly creative approaches.

The first step in the recent history of drones that met with widespread creative adoption was the mounting of a camera on a drone, as discussed in the FILM, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND PERFORMANCE section. But drone developers have come up with all sorts of uses – equipping drones with kits, infrared detectors and other sensors, or lockable cargo containers that enable them to be used to carry medical supplies, reach search-and-rescue victims, help fight fires, check power lines, or scan buildings for areas of heat loss. Combining drones with other areas of innovation like RFID tagging (Radio-frequency identification, as in the everyday store barcode) or the internet of things will doubtless lead to many more developments on the application side, and artists or organisations looking to work creatively with drones might think of new, collaborative or performance-based uses for these developments.

On the technological side, drone manufacturers have borrowed from other RC (link to glossary) technologies – like this drone/tank hybrid – found inspiration in insect behavior, or channeled DIY aesthetics, such as this project that turns anything into a drone. Here again, these inspirations may be turned to creative use in art or performance, or offer new forms of engagement via workshops and brainstorming sessions.

When we ran our London and Manchester drone workshops, we invited participants to brainstorm about possible drone uses, and even engaged in an exercise to ‘design’ a drone out of LEGO. The purpose of this activity was to engage the participants with the notion of modular design, a trend we have seen emerging in other technologies like mobile phones. Modular design allows users to prioritise components most of use to them. As such, our LEGO activity asked the participants to create their own drones to help them in their organisations. This allowed us and them to clarify what they thought they needed, while the sharing of their design enabled all participants to get an idea of applications for drones that might not otherwise have occurred to them.

When thinking about your drone project, you might want to start with a list of objectives and then think creatively about how to achieve them. Do you want to engage audiences remotely, from their own homes and devices? If so, what about making an app or live stream that could allow them to remotely view the drone’s point of view? What about groups of people whom you might otherwise struggle to reach? How could you use the likely interests of those groups to get them involved in your project?

Drones can do all the things we have discussed – but they could also play catch, dance, dress up, hide, recycle, project images, paint, play instruments, or any number of behaviors. Some of the most popular drone videos include the simple but beautiful short films of ETH The Machine Area showing  drones passing sticks and balls back and forth (as below). In an entirely different kind of project, produced by the University of Pennsylvania, quadcopters work in unison to pick out the James Bond theme song on instruments. These videos give just a glimpse of what’s ahead and the possibilities for artists engaging with drones. Hopefully, these examples and the section on HISTORY & CONTEXT can help spark ideas for some of the unusual and unique possibilities for this technology.

Next page in toolkit: Film, photography and performance