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Flying LampshadeBots Come Alive in Cirque du Soleil Performance

Cirque du Soleil and ETH Zurich turn quadrotors into magical floating lampshades

2 min read
Flying LampshadeBots Come Alive in Cirque du Soleil Performance
Image: Cirque du Soleil/Verity Studios

ETH Zurich's Flying Machine Arenahas spawnedall kinds ofmind blowingquadrotor tricks over the years, so it's not at all surprising that it's also spawned a spin-off performance company to take some of those tricks out into the world for the rest of us to enjoy. Verity Studios is combining ETH Zurich's experience with precision flying robots with the wild imaginations of creatives like Cirque du Soleil, starting with a short film called "Sparked" featuring a swarm of quadrotors with lampshades on their heads. 

While filming probably required many, many takes as well as a controlled environment with a motion-tracking system to precisely fly the quadrotors, none of what you're seeing here is CGI: it's all real robots, doing real things, in real time, with a real human in the middle of it. Some of what you're hearing here has certainly be modified, though: 10 quadrotors in close proximity sounds like a swarm of giant robot bees. That are angry. With you.

Here's some behind-the-scenes video of what went into making "Spark." I especially like hearing about some of the things that they tried before settling on lampshades:

So each lampshadebot has its own personality, and apparently, the reason that the purple one isn't in most of the video is that it was "aerodynamically intractable." Heh.

What's it like to actually be on set with a huge swarm of noisy flying robots? Markus Waibel (who co-founded Verity with Raffaello D'Andrea) describes the experience:

Within hours the entire film crew had become comfortable with the flying machines hovering nearby or brushing past them as they swooshed through the air. On one occasion, a mis-timed dolly motion led to a flying machine hovering just centimeters above the camera man, who continued with his work unfazed. On another occasion, when Nicolas missed his cue, he bumped into one of the flying machines. But they just jostled past each other and continued on with their choreography as if nothing exceptional had happened. On yet another occasion, a drone collided with the moving camera without disturbance.

The only damage during the entire two-day shoot was a single broken lamp, knocked over by one of the quadrocopters’ airflow.

So no humans or robots injured in the making of this film. In fact, a quadrotor with a lampshade on its head, blocking its rapidly-spinning blades, is possibly the safest kind of quadrotor.

Quadrotors began to take part in artistic performances several years ago. Dance company Pilobolus and Daniela Rus's group at MIT have been collaborating in different routines since 2011. Now Verity Studios is joining the likes of KMel Robotics and (if they can make it actually happen) Disney Research in starting to commercialize artistic quadrotor performances. It's kind of crazy that in just the last few years, a handful of companies have entered this space, considering how difficult it is to get it to work in practice. KMel has to deal with flying in uncontrolled environments outdoors, just as Verity has to deal with safe human interactions. 

We're hoping that this partnership with Cirque du Soleil will lead to more public performances (maybe some that we can go see?), and we're certain that this is just a tiny little taste of what Verity has in store for the future.

[ Sparked ] via [ Robohub ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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