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Smart Atoms (Spaxels) – Flying building blocks


Developed at the Ars Electronica Futurelab, Spaxels (a portmanteau word from space pixels) are LED-equipped quadcopters. They make up a drone swarm that can “draw” three-dimensional figures in midair.

The project is a move away from conventional screen-based media. The team sees primary benefit of this mode of visualization in depicting concrete visual forms that transcend what can be done with computer screens, large-scale displays and projections. The source of inspiration for the project is the concept of the pixel, whereby coordinating the characteristics of individual points of light makes it possible to create an image or a moving picture. In this context, each quadcopter is considered an individual spaxel (space pixel) that, as part of a choreographed group, is able to represent a variety of forms, shapes and dynamic sequences. To make this happen, the team developed their own swarm management software and a ground control unit, by making proprietary modifications to the quadcopter software.

The spaxels debuted with a swarm of 49 quadcopters at the 2012 Linzer Klangwolke (Cloud of Sound). This has been followed by many more shows throughout Austria and abroad. Most recently the project has been presented as “Smart Atoms” during the 2014 Festival Ars Electronica at the Future Playground. This part of the project in particular is concerned with interlinking quadcopters to form flying building blocks. This will make it possible not only to form visual likenesses but also to generate objects with material-virtual characteristics

The future developmental possibilities range from architectural visualizations to dynamic spatial elements in an indoor setting, deploying coordinated spaxel formations in a wide array of contexts. Read more about the project by following the series of posts on the AEC blog.

Project Page | Futurelab

Spaxels team includes Horst Hörtner (Idea and Concept Development/Research), Florian Berger (Initial Development and Programming Flight Control Software), Chris Bruckmayr (Business Manager Spaxels), Andreas Jalsovec (Technical Development Spaxels Choreographies and Show Design), Michael Mayr (3D Animation and Show Design), Martin Mörth (Head of Technical Development), Patrick Müller (Technical Production), Kathrin Obernhumer (Assistance Organisation) and Michael Platz (Development LED Module)