2012: The first swarm of drones illuminates the night sky
In September 2012, a new medium for physical-visual expression was born along the banks of the river Danube in Linz: The world’s first large-scale outdoor formation drone flight illuminated the night sky as part and centerpiece of the open-air music festival Klangwolke. Since then, drone shows have captivated millions of people at countless events all over the world – and it all began with a vision of the researchers, engineers and artists of the Ars Electronica Futurelab.
Spaxels means Space Elements, analogous to Pixels, Picture Elements: The dots in three-dimensional space form a shape, the body of which is completed by our imagination. The Spaxels have defined a new type of display in space; at the same time, they inverted the picture of drones as agents of surveillance by becoming the watched instead of the watchers. At the same time, they have established themselves as a medium for a visual spectacle and thus an expressive alternative to fireworks.
The term Spaxel refers to a swarm of drones of the Futurelab that performed in shows across the globe in the following years. But even after the original Spaxels swarm was retired in 2018, the name has become our term for any of our endeavours that involve light-bearing drones, in projects such as Space Ink or Sky Compass.
Performances around the world
In our light shows, the drones followed strictly choreographed paths, deterministically – notwithstanding weather and unexpected interferences – and centrally controlled. These choreographies were carefully designed by our artists to achieve unique aesthetic qualities in this unusual medium. In some projects (such as Shared Space Spaxels), we have explored scenarios in which the drones react to humans that interact with them in their own space via experimental interfaces – as artistic explorations or design studies for future human-robot interactions.
From Fluxels to swarms+art
Based on the Spaxels, the Ars Electronica Futurelab team collaborated with NTT to develop the Fluxels: big ground robots with hexagonal LED displays that as a swarm serve as a new kind of mosaic or “walking window” with fast, flowing movements. Fluxels are more concrete than Spaxels, such as being able to display high-resolution video, and – contrary to light shows in the sky – are best viewed from above.
To summarize the Futurelab’s development work in drone technology and open the project to other artists and partners in industry and education, the swarms+art website has served as a platform since 2023. Here you can find insights into research such as the groundbreaking swarmOS operating system as well as detailed project information, videos and patents.
More about Spaxels Swarm Art Performances
Interdisciplinary Urban Studies and Data Art:
Interdisziplinäre Stadtforschung und Datenkunst:
200 Years of Anton Bruckner: Music meets the latest Technologies:
200 Jahre Anton Bruckner: Musik trifft auf neueste Technologien:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: Enthüllung von Wahrheiten, Gestaltung der Gesellschaft und Innovation in der Bildung:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: Unveiling Truths, Shaping Society and Innovating Education:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: KI, Kunst und menschliche Kreativität:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: AI, Art and Human Creativity:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: Auf zu neuen Horizonten:
Ars Electronica Recap 2023: Off to New Horizons:
FOUNDING LAB Fall Term: Interdisciplinarity as a New Expertise:
FOUNDING LAB Fall Term: Interdisziplinarität als neue Expertise:
TIME OUT .12 – Timebased and Interactive Media Arts meets Ars Electronica:
TIME OUT .12 – Timebased and Interactive Media Arts meets Ars Electronica:
Jury ehrt Anatomieunterricht der Zukunft:
Jury honors anatomy education of the future:
Soft Wars – Data, code and models that shape our lives:
Soft Wars – Daten, Code und Modelle, die unser Leben bestimmen:
Spaxels Research Initiative – Swarms of the Future: How to deal with networks of intelligent, autonomous robots raises many questions that the Spaxels Research Initiative aims to formulate and pose.
SPAXELS rock in Rio – A test run near Linz: This years edition of the mega rock festival ROCK IN RIO will be the first to wow its audience with an illuminated swarm of drones. But before the Ars Electronica Spaxels® can enchant a one-million-plus of people between September 15th and 24th, a three-day marathon rehearsal was staged in Upper Austria over the last Week in March.
DRONE 100 – Spaxels Over Linz: Test Flight in the Mühlviertel: “DRONE 100 –Spaxels over Linz” is the title of a spectacular quadcopter swarm performance that Ars Electronica and Intel are staging on September 10th, 2016. Before the 100 drones make their European public debut above the Danube they’ll be subjected to a rigorous physical exam. The first two test flights already took place this week—the quadcopters lifted off from a secluded field in Mühlviertel, the rural area north of Linz, and put on quite a show (that not too many people got to see).
The Spaxels at the Eurovision Song Contest: This is the ultimate extravaganza! With over 195 million viewers, the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest will be one of the world’s biggest televised events. Among the featured attractions—albeit with only half a minute of air time—are the Spaxels of the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz.
Spaxels in Dubai: Accompany the Ars Electronica Futurelab crew on a business trip to Dubai. At a spectacular nighttime event staged to celebrate the United Arab Emirates’ 43rd National Day on December 1, 2014, the Spaxels, a swarm of LED-equipped quadcopters, got a very enthusiastic reception.
Lightpainting with Spaxels: The Spaxels, the 3d-Pixels that the Ars Electronica Futurelab has created based on quadcopter-technology, have proven their skills to paint logos and animations into the sky a number of times. Currently, the next step is being tested, and it looks amazing.
Spaxels testflight and show in Linz: The Spaxels are flying again on April 18th in Linz, check out the video for footage from the last testflight.
Spaxels in London: The Spaxels, Ars Electronica Futurelab’s current flagship project have visited London, drawing a huge Star Trek – Logo into the nightsky of England’s capitol.
Spaxels – Test at the Donauparkstadion: The last Spaxel-Test of the year took place at the Donauparkstadium, home of Blau-Weiß Linz. The test was about finding out how the quadrocopter and especially their batteries work at low temperatures, but new shapes and animations were tested as well.
The Art of Swarms: The Spaxels were just the beginning of a long journey into the future of the Ars Electronica Futurelab
Swarm Compass: A Sea Change in Visualizing Events by Swarm Intelligence: What are the possibilities of swarm intelligence? How can drones be used to make transportation and communications easier? The Ars Electronica Futurelab is working together with Japanese telecommunications company NTT to find answers. In this interview, Hideaki Ogawa of Ars Electronica Futurelab and Shingo Kinshita of NTT tell us about their efforts.
Sky Compass: Going Beyond Navigation by the Stars: As Tokyo will be facing the challenge of hosting a huge influx of tourists in 2020, NTT, Japan’s biggest Telecommunication company, and Ars Electronica Futurelab are working on a sky compass to guide the people.
Around the World via Quadcopter: A spectacular Spaxels show will be the lead-in to the 2016 Klangwolke, Linz’s annual outdoor extravaganza. The DRONE 100 crew has already made a name for itself worldwide; now, the record-setting quadcopter formation of the Ars Electronica Futurelab and Intel™ Corporation is making its European debut. Here, Chris Bruckmayr and Andreas Jalsovec talk about some of the exotic airspaces they’ve flown through over the course of their Spaxels career.
DRONE 100 in Linz: A Behind-the-Scenes Look: This will be the first public appearance in Europe of the world’s largest autonomous drone swarm. Just before the Visualisierte Klangwolke in September 2016, the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s 100 Spaxels will display their aerial artistry in Linz. Here, Chris Bruckmayr and Andreas Jalsovec of the Spaxels crew talk about all the preparations and work that goes into such a performance.
Drone 100: A World Record with 100 Points: A spectacle produced by the Ars Electronica Futurelab for Intel has made it into the record books! In a performance showcased by a promotional film for the world-famous chip maker, 100 spaxels took to the sky simultaneously. Team spirit is what it took to get this ambitious demonstration of technical brilliance off the ground.
The quadrocopters fly again: The Ars Electronica Futurelab’s quadrocopter formation that debuted at the 2012 voestalpine Klangwolke has created a sensation, one that commenced on site during the extravaganza itself and has continued online ever since. But since, as we all know, laurels aren’t for resting on, Futurelab staffers are already hard at work taking their Spaxel concept to the next level of development.