Google Glass, Graffiti, and Twitter-Controlled Beer-Bots: Highlights from the Drone Conference

10.16.13 Andy Cush

In one room, there’s a quadcopter doing backflips, piloted by a guy who’s doing nothing but wiggling his Google Glass-adorned head. In another, a woman sitting with her head inside a hanging circular paper lantern, swiveling around on a rotating office chair. In a third, a group of students have festooned a drone with multicolored yarn, creating a mechanical creature that looks something like a giant flying jellyfish. And everywhere, there’s the high-pitched buzz of dozens of tiny plastic propellers.

We’re at the day three of the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference hosted by NYU last weekend, a hackathon intended as a cooldown after two days of panels and lectures. The day saw a mix of students, hobbyists, and seasoned professionals brought together to explore the boundaries of what’s possible with a laptop, a Wi-Fi connection, and a little flying robot.

Watch some highlights from the hackathon in the video above.

The Google Glass-controlled drone, programmed by Android developer Fredia Huya-Kouadio, also allows the pilot to view a live feed from the drone’s camera on the Glass display, like they’re sitting in a virtual cockpit.

There’s another, from Aaron Cantrell, Snehesh Shrasteha, John Caris, and Paul Voss, that takes commands from Twitter: tweet “forward” at @WeDrone, it moves forward, tweet “back,” it moves backwards, and so on. At one point, the room successfully piloted it to deliver a beer.

Allison Burtch (formerly of ANIMAL) and Ramsey Nasser used a preexisting database of graffiti writers’ handstyles to train a drone to take tags with a marker. Eventually, it could wield a spray paint can instead, to be used when artists want to make their mark on previously unreachable spots. It’s not there yet, but watching the precision and intent with which their bot scrawled on a whiteboard was inspiring nonetheless.

The word “drone” may conjure up images of the sleek, sinister Predator UAVs used by the U.S. military, but that’s quite different from what we saw on Sunday. The drones were on loan from Parrot, a French company that makes user-friendly, relatively affordable and easily hackable flying robots that have as much in common with Air Hogs as they do with the wares of a company like General Atomics.

The conference’s organizers say they were less interested in making a political statement about drones than in exploring the technology’s potential

“I was interested to see what would happen when we got these diverse viewpoints together,” conference co-director Dean Jansen told ANIMAL. “We didn’t come at it with a political ideology. The idea was: let’s explore this technology. We don’t necessarily think it’s good or bad–it can be used for good or bad–but let’s get all of these people together talking and see what comes out.”