Tiny Drone Can Autonomously Paint Dot Murals

Beauty is in the motion-capture camera of the beholder. McGill University/YouTube.

Dr Paul Kry wanted to decorate the stairways at McGill University’s School of Computer Science in Montreal, Canada, but computer scientists being computer scientists, he didn’t want to just use a paintbrush.

“I thought it would be great to have drones paint portraits of famous computer scientists on them,” he recalled in a statement.

Together with some of his master’s students, Kry developed a palm-sized aerial drone with an ink-soaked sponge. Using a complex algorithm, you can plug in a design and let the drone do the work. It’s able to hover like a hummingbird near the wall surface, while internal sensors and a motion-capture system help work out where to place the perfect dot. 

It can account for errors, caused by a gust of wind for example, by dynamically updating the information on where the next dots should be placed.

The first incarnation of the drone needed regular stops to refuel ink and change batteries. Now, the team is experimenting with thin power cord tethers so that the drone can work nonstop. They've also tried to update the programming so the drone can find the location of a wall-mounted ink pad, allowing it to refill autonomously.

So far, they’ve already made portraits of computer science pioneer Alan Turing and actress Grace Kelly. They hope to soon begin creating larger murals with bigger drones as they continue to get to grips with the technique.

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