Tiny drones outfitted with a miniature arm that holds ink-soaked sponge may soon be able to create huge paintings and outdoor murals, thanks to a new software developed by scientists.
Paul Kry from the McGill University in Canada and his students teamed up to programme tiny drones to create dot drawings - an artistic technique known as stippling.
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, researchers said. Even very slight air currents can toss the featherweight drones off course.
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 they 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.
So far, the flying robots have rendered - on paper - portraits of Alan Turing, Grace Kelly and Che Guevara, among others. Each drawing is composed of a few hundred to a few thousand black dots of varying sizes. Eventually, larger drones could be deployed to paint murals on hard-to-reach outdoor surfaces, including curved or irregular facades, Kry said.