As drones find their way into more and more uses in cities, international design and innovation office Carlo Ratti Associate has developed Paint By Drone – a portable technological solution that employs drone formations to paint graffiti on urban facades. The project aims to turn any blank vertical surface into a space for both participatory artistic expression and the visualization of urban data.

The first two installations of Paint By Drone are scheduled to launch in Fall 2017 in the German capital Berlin and the Italian city of Turin. “Both are cities with a striving art scene and “hunger” for innovation. We know them quite well – Turin is where our office, Carlo Ratti Associati, is based, and Berlin is where we have developed several projects,” founder and CEO Carlo Ratti tells progrss. The installations are planned to take place within six to 12 months.

graffiti

Carlo Ratti.

“Drones are becoming an increasingly common part of our everyday life. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, by 2020 there might be 1.3 million quad-copter drones flying in the United States’ skies only,” Ratti continues. Given this evolving scenario, the idea of employing drones in different contexts is something that has accompanied Ratti’s teams in several projects at MIT’s Senseable City Lab and at Carlo Ratti Associati office.

“In Senseable City Lab’s 2013 project “Skycall,” we employed an autonomous flying quadcopter as a personal guide tour, resulting in a system that can efficiently locate, communicate with, and guide visitors around the MIT campus – including stray Harvard students. Paint By Drone project represents a step forward in this research path,” he adds.

graffiti

Carlo Ratti.

The project is implemented by a set of one-meter wide drones, each of them equipped with sensors and a spray paint tank. Drones can draw content submitted digitally via an app. The artistic input can come from either crowdsourced platforms or from a curator orchestrating the contributions of several people. In its initial implementation, the project proposes to use the facades of construction sites as giant canvases.

“With our idea of “phygital graffiti” we would like to [leverage] drones and, more in general, digital technologies to create participatory works of public art – with street artists actively involved in the process,” he says. Phygital graffiti is the process carried out by an artist doing an initial drawing on the canvas – such as the facade of a massive construction site; members of the public are then allowed to color in sections using the drone, controlled by an app on a smart phone or tablet. The five members behind the project consider drones an extension of the human hand, with the app being something that anyone can download and access. “In this crowd-sourced option, people can use a mobile app to draw their own designs, imagining how that would look at the urban scale,” Ratti adds.

graffiti

Carlo Ratti.

No problems have been encountered by the art innovators so far. Ratti and his team are interfacing with various public institutions, which until now have been eager to develop the project. “We have been working on this project for about six months. Each installation will have its specific cost depending on variables such as the surface to be painted, the number of drones in action and so on.”

Ratti says that the project could make the realization of works of public art both easier and safer in urban contexts as well as alongside highways, within railway galleries, on bridges and viaducts to name a few.

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