Cirque du Soleil Puts The Spark Into Drones
Written by David Conrad   
Sunday, 05 October 2014

With a little help from ETH Zurich and its quadcopter flying algorithms. 

The comparison between Sparked and the classic Fantasia, the sorcerer's apprentice scene to be precise, is an obvious one, but there the similarities end.  Fantasia was all hand drawn cartoon and hence 100% unreal, but Sparked uses no CGI and no trickery - what you see is what happens. It is a video because it can be made perfect, but there is nothing stopping the work being performed live - as long as you are prepared to put up with some randomness. 

 

sparked1

 

Take a look at the video before we examine how it was possible:

 

 

The performance was filmed in ETH's Flying Machine Arena, which is not only a safe space for drones but has lots of equipment that make Sparked possible. In particular its motion capture system, working at 200 frames per second, can determine position accurately. This is integrated with a system that allows controls to be sent to the copters based on predictions of where they will be at the next time step compared to where they should be. 

 

sparked2

 

The following video explains some of the techniques and showcases some of the impressive things drones have been able to do:

 

 

It is easy to forget the role that software plays in the control and impressive stability of the flying drone. Add to this positioning abilities and you have something very special. 

 

sparked3

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