Bitdrones: Cool Interactive Nanocopters

OK, these are totally cool, even if they do have quadcopters inside. The coolness, of course, is in the payload and in the interactive interface. Each BitDrone is a “self- levitating voxel”, and computer vision is used to implement “interaction primitives such as touching or dragging of individual drones across 3D space.” (paper to be presented this week).

This interaction is very cool, I’d love to have some of these even if they do nothing but let me shuffle them!

The creators (from Queens University in Ontario) are interested in developing “programmable matter”, with which they want to construct “Physical” Virtual Reality, as envisioned, like everything else, by Ivan Sutherland (fifty years ago).

The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such aroom would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” (Sutherland, 1965)

I honestly don’t know if this technology will actually go that far. We really want the individual Catoms to be much smaller, even as small as sand or dust. To achieve this, the nanoquadcopter isn’t going to scale down, you’ll need some other kind of lifter. Also, the gestural interface will have to be radically different when the units are smaller: the demonstration works when the Catoms are roughly the same size as a human hand, but you don’t manipulate a cloud of dust with these gestures (e.g., placing each one, one-by-one, is absurd.) Think about the difference between stacking blocks and spreading paint.

But still, this programmable matter vision has certainly led the researchers to a truly interesting device, regardless of where the specific technology may go.

I concur with Evan Ackerman: “This. Is. Amazing.”


  1. Rubens, C., Braley, S., Gomes, A., Goc, D., Zhang, X., Carrascal, J-P. and R. Vertegaal. BitDrones: Towards Self-Levitating Programmable Matter Via Interactive 3D Quadcopter Displays. (forthcoming this week) In Proceedings of ACM UIST’15 User Interface Software and Technology Symposium, ACM Press, 2015.
  2. Ivan E. Sutherland. 1965. The Ultimate Display. Proceedings of IFIP 65, vol 2, pp. 506-508.


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