Drones Take On Mural Mission


From monitoring construction sites to delivering packages, the abilities of drones are growing and a team of Canadian researchers wants to add painting murals to that list.

One day the technology could be used to create large scale murals on difficult to reach outdoor surfaces, including curved or irregular shaped facades, according to Paul Kry, a computer science professor at McGill University’s School of Computer Science in Montreal.

The drone mural mission was developed in Kry’s laboratory, where he and a few of his students teamed up to program small drones to create dot drawings—an artistic technique known as “stippling.” The idea stemmed from Kry’s dream to have drones paint murals of famous computer scientists on the white walls in hallways and stairwells of McGill, according to an announcement on the research.

How it Works

The drones, which are small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, are outfitted with a miniature arm that holds a bit of ink-soaked sponge. As the drones hover near the surface to be painted, internal sensors and a motion capture system help position them to dab the ink in just the right places.

Programming the aerial robots to apply each payload of ink accurately and efficiently requires complex algorithms to plan flight paths and adjust for positioning errors, McGill relates. Even very slight air currents can toss the featherweight drones off course. One of the students said he worked on the projects at night and in the wee hours of the morning to avoid others opening and closing doors or otherwise creating air turbulence for the drones, according to a video description of the project.

So far, the flying robots have rendered paper portraits of Alan Turing, Grace Kelly, Che Guevara and others. Each drawing is composed of a few hundred to a few thousand black dots of varying sizes.

The Flight Continues

The project officially launched in 2014, when Kry purchased a few tiny quadcopters online and tasked an undergraduate student to start on the research under a Canadian government award, according to the university. Later, master’s students Brendan Galea and Ehsan Kia took the project’s helm.

A paper on the project by Kry and the three students won a “best paper” prize in May at an international symposium in Lisbon on computational aesthetics in graphics and imaging.

The work continues. Eventually, larger drones could be deployed to paint larger murals, according to Kry.

“There’s this wonderful mural festival in Montreal, and we have giant surfaces in the city that end up getting amazing artwork on them,” he said. “If we had a particularly calm day, it would be wonderful to try to do something on a larger scale like that.”


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Artists; Color + Design; Design; Exterior painting; Murals; Research and development

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