In the beginning, there was a shared research interest: How can swarm-based technology be embedded in everyday media use and what new possibilities of communication or artistic expression does it offer as a visual medium? The Japanese telecommunications company NTT and the Ars Electronica Futurelab have been investigating these questions since 2017 and have repeatedly been able to present new results and approaches to their cooperation in recent years. While the focus of the joint research was initially on drone based navigation and signage, the approach quickly expanded to more complex applications of swarm technologies using both drone and ground robots.
In July 2019, the Ars Electronica Futurelabs team presented a new prototype at the Japanese National Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan. A swarm of 39 ground robots with hexagonal LED displays moved synchronously in various formations, merging into mosaic images and videos. The artist Akiko Nakayama and the musician Ei Wada integrated the robots into their performances and showed the possibilities of creative applications of swarm technology.
Looking ahead to 2020 as the year of major sporting events, led by the Japan Olympics, NTT and the Ars Electronica Futurelab have been working on novel formats to extend and broadcast such events. What can a supporting program with swarm technologies look like, how can information be visualized with this technology, and what possibilities do the robot swarms offer for public viewing? Within the framework of the exhibition Sports Viewing Re-Imagined curated by NTT in the Miraikan, the first approaches of such swarm technology augmented or virtual arenas were shown.
New in this presentation was the organization of the swarm. For some time now, the Ars Electronica Futurelab has been working on SwarmOS, an operating system for swarm control. With flights and shows from Spaxels, the system was specifically tailored to a drone model. Now it is gradually being abstracted. The aim is to create a system that is as generic as possible, which can use configuration files to control a range of vehicles as agents, as long as they support certain protocols. The Ars Electronica Futurelabs team is striving to create an interface that both enables the exchange of vehicles and can be used by third parties with their own hardware.
NTT: Hiroshi Chigira, Shingo Kinoshita, Kenya Suzuki, Masafumi Suzuki, Hitoshi Yamaguchi
Ars Electronica Futurelab: Patrick Berger, Kerstin Blätterbinder, Manuel Dobusch, Samuel Eckl, Peter Holzkorn, Horst Hörtner, Maria Mayr, Otto Naderer, Nicolas Naveau, Hideaki Ogawa, Daniel Rammer, Raphael Schaumburg-Lippe, Simon Schmid