Quadcopters join the circus, in this magical video from Raff D’Andrea and Cirque du Soleil

Oct 22, 2014 /

In art, drones can be magical.

It’s a simple story: a man working too late at night starts to see things. He’s not sure if they’re real or a sleep-induced fantasy. But since it’s 2014, of course that dream is actually drones.

Following an electrical outage, a nameless lamp repairman finds himself completely in the dark. As he lights a lantern to resume his work, he finds himself at the center of a ring of lampshades come to life. The ethereal shades illuminate his office, dancing around the repairman, and responding to his touch and gestures.

This short film by Verity Studios made in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil is the newest project by Raffaello D’Andrea (Watch: The astounding athletic power of quadcopters) and his team at ETH Zurich. No special effects were used to animate the lampshades; under each one is a quadcopter.

The quads are attached to lampshades with high-power LEDs mounted inside, and they use an algorithm to determine roughly how to execute the choreography. The quads run custom software for estimation and control — but they’re flying completely autonomously. Verity cofounder Markus Waibel is excited about the potential of using quads for entertainment “to amaze audiences and tell wonderful stories.” Watch the whimsical quads in action.