Project Daedalus: prototyping drone labs

Project Daedalus explores the creative potential of drones, but we are also interested in what audiences expect and how they understand these new tools. To that end we hosted a ‘drone lab’ events series that invited very different groups to explore drones and their uses, with the aim of learning and sharing knowledge.

The London & Manchester Drone Labs

The Drone Lab series, held in London and Manchester, invited participants from creative organisations to learn more about drones, 360 cameras and virtual reality. The day also included an in-depth workshop on each of the technologies with experts from Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) and the University of Salford.

Some of the participants were already adept flyers of drones, or creative practitioners already using new technologies. Others were from cultural organisations looking to develop their understanding of the technology and add their own input into this toolkit.

Participants took part in several group discussions focused around the concept of drones in modern society, the depiction of drones in science fiction and popular culture, current drone research, and a memorable story in the media. This gave the participants a historical context of drones and their possible applications, and the project team an understanding what creative stakeholders know about drones already, and what they want from the technology.

The groups were given a demonstration of how to control the Hubsan X4 (with fitted SD card HD camera) and the Parrot Bebop drone (onboard live camera with iPad control). They then operated the drones under supervision whilst recording footage from their flight.

Results: Some concerns were raised about the safety of the technology, but participants were more concerned with authenticity and originality of experiences provided by drones. Most felt they increased their understanding of drones through hands-on activities, which included making a drone design in LEGO. The majority of users found it difficult to control the altitude and direction with the Hubsan X4 quadcopters through the gaming style handsets, and preferred the intuitive touch screen controls of the Parrot drone – leading us to speculate that this may be a better choice for first-time users.

Participants also spent time discussing some commonly available drones and speculated on creative uses.

Speculative Design:

Ranking drone applications in order of interest:

1. Gimball (the indestructible drone) – contained within protective frame, algorithms to control it, industrial inspection, entertainment uses

2. Iris + (Long flight time, advanced battery tech, camera, 3PV tech [follow], automatic 3D modelling) – entertainment, education, teaching?

3. Grasp (AI drone) – phone drives the drone, autonomous, taking pictures to triangulate environment, filter integrates features to determine state in the environment, computation done on phone, planning, estimation

4. Nixie (wearable drone)

5. Lily (Waterproof)

6. Fotokite (tether drone)

Creative Use:

1. Graffiti drone – spray paint can on arm

2. Sparkle – actor drone

3. Swarm Choreography – drones becoming pixels

4. Drone Dancers

5. Drone Racing – collective uses

6. Pop video

We have an idea that drones are stable and advanced, but an encounter in real life shows their fragility – waiting to fall, hitting trees…’
‘Drone becomes the story instead of the user.’
‘Reawakens the explorer…’
‘Using drones to shift the perspective and enable different view points.’

Next page in toolkit: Collaborating with the Royal College of Art