When drones do magic

26.09.2014 11:08

Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and the ETH spin-off Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The video aroused great interest around the world.

The video of Cirque du Soleil shows a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync. Precise computer control allows for a large performance and movement vocabulary of the quadcopters and opens the door to many more applications in the future. No CGI have been used for the film. Every movement of the lampshades is real.

The film was shot at the Flying Machine Arena (FMA) of ETH Zurich, a portable space devoted to autonomous flight. Measuring up to 10 x 10 x 10 meters, it consists of a high-precision motion capture system, a wireless communication network, and custom software executing sophisticated algorithms for estimation and control.

The motion capture system can locate multiple objects in the space at rates exceeding 200 frames per second. While this may seem extremely fast, the objects in the space can move at speeds in excess of 10 m/s, resulting in displacements of over 5 cm between successive snapshots. This information is fused with other data and models of the system dynamics to predict the state of the objects into the future.

The video has been viewed more than 200’000 times. IEEE times published a comprehensive article about the video and the technology behind it. Background information can also be found in an interview with Raffaello D'Andrea, professor at ETH Zurich's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control and his former deputy director and co-founder of the ETH spin-off company Verity Studios AG, Markus Weibel at the ETH website. And there is another video on Youtube about the technology and the cooperation between Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, Verity Studios.


Verity Studios was officially founded in July 2014 by Raffaello D'Andrea, Markus Waibel and Markus Hehn.

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