Spaxels are quadcopters equipped with a programmable LED system. They comprise a swarm that’s able to fly in formation and “draw” dynamic three-dimensional figures in the night sky. The Ars Electronica Futurelab is the sole player in this field, the only one capable of working with aesthetic forms of expression that were previously possible only on a computer and, via spaxels, translating them into the real world of a three-dimensional airspace.
A Spaxel in the Air
The point of departure is having the vision to develop a display that goes beyond conventional screen-based media. The primary benefit of this mode of visualization is that the advantages of digital design come into play in depicting concrete visual forms that transcend what can be done with computer screens, large-scale displays and projections. Plus, taking leave of the narrow confines of a monitor makes it possible to generate a new aesthetic vocabulary that allows for a great deal more freedom of expression than has ever been available before.
The source of inspiration for the spaxels is the concept of the pixel, whereby coordinating the characteristics of individual points of light makes it possible to create an image or a moving picture. In this context, each quadcopter is considered an individual spaxel (space pixel) that, as part of a choreographed group, is able to represent a variety of forms, shapes and dynamic sequences.
To make this happen, we developed our own swarm management software and a ground control unit, and also made proprietary modifications to the aircraft’s software.