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Swarm of Micro-Helicopters Could Create a Giant 3-D Display


Mechanical fireflies could help create a new kind of 3-D display.

MIT SENSEable City Lab

Mechanical fireflies could help create a new kind of 3-D display, say researchers at MIT.

Standing in for the bioluminescent beetles will be LED-fitted, remotely controlled micro-helicopters that can be choreographed electronically to display shapes and images as they hover in midair. The project, called Flyfire, would use RC helicopters similar to the toys sold at the mall today.

“Each of the helicopters then acts as what we call a smart pixel,” E Roon Kang, the MIT research fellow who is leading the project, told Wired.com. “By controlling their movement, we can have the pixels flying through the air.”

The idea is almost all theoretical now since it is in its very early stages, says Kang. Researchers at MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems (ARES) Lab are jointly developing the idea.

[see MIT video explaining how it will work]

In traditional displays, pixels are static and arranged on a flat surface. Finding a way to make truly three-dimensional displays has been a frequent subject of research, but few practical solutions have emerged despite decades of effort.

The MIT researchers are betting that if each pixel can be made to hover in space and can be controlled reliably, they can create a giant 3-D display.

Ultimately the project would be a step in the direction of “smart dust” — the idea that computing devices will be extremely small, somewhat self-contained, and pervasive, says MIT.

From Wired
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