Innovating Art through Technology: Paint by Drone. Interview with Carlo Ratti Associati

In this dossier about drone technologies, we will interview Carlo Ratti Associati, an international architectural firm based in Turin and Boston, founded by architect Carlo Ratti. The firm is known for its innovative projects that combine technology and architecture, including UFO, a painter drone, and firefly, a low-energy floating lighting system. In the second part of the dossier, we will meet Misha Most, a Russian artist who used the painter drone for an art installation.

  1. How did the Paint by Drone project originate?

The project originated in 2017 from a reflection on the theme of participation, which we continued to explore in various forms at our studio CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati. In essence, a group of drones, each equipped with a spray can, became the executors of a collective drawing, created by hundreds of hands. The first experiment of the idea took place in 2019 in Turin, with UFO (Urban Flying Opera), the performance promoted by Compagnia di San Paolo, created and curated by CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati, coordinated and realized by the Mario Boella Institute, in collaboration with Algoritmo.

  1. Who is the team behind the project and what are the main difficulties encountered? What are the strengths of drones compared to traditional painting methods and what are the weaknesses?

The team was very cross-disciplinary, involving both design and innovation and social robotics expertise. This broad spectrum of knowledge allowed us to experiment on a large scale. The design of the UFO project extended to a 170 square meter canvas set up inside a large ex-industrial structure in the Peccei park in Turin. On top of that, the organizational aspect was a challenge as the participation was very high, involving many students from the neighborhood. Finally, a dedicated team selected the thousands of initial drawings to get the final work, which was then painted by the drones.

UFO, the painting-drone
  1. Paint by Drone represents a perfect integration between hardware and software: how was this achieved? How much time elapsed from the idea to the realization of the first works?

As I mentioned, our team was multidisciplinary, so an experimental approach, full of trials and errors, was crucial. The most important step for us was to combine the expressive freedom of drawing with meticulous control of the technological system: software controlled in real-time managed the movements of the drones, minute by minute, thanks to a tracking system of their position in space. The most interesting aspect for us is the possibility of using technology as an expression tool rather than as an end in itself. In this case, using drones, we responded to people’s expressive needs, echoing the theme of street art, which by its nature is a bottom-up manifestation.

  1. Do you think this methodology can be applied on a large scale?

Paint by Drone was a fundamental experiment for us on various themes: from participation to the innovative use of drones in the entertainment industry. And it is precisely in this second area of research that the research of the CRA studio continued with the launch of a startup, called Flyfire, which today develops drone technologies for creating flying light shows all over the world. For more information: https://flyfire.io/

  1. Architecture, art and innovative approach: what is the link?

I believe there is a strong link between architecture, art, and innovation in all my work. In Paint by Drone, this connection is evident in the use of technology as a tool for artistic expression and social participation. The relationship with architecture lies in the design of spaces for these collective drawings and in the design of the urban context in which these performances take place.

  1. How do you believe the relationship between architecture, sustainability, and technological innovation will evolve?

One must always consider the different dimensions of sustainability – environmental, social and economic. In this sense, it is key for quality of life. Absolutely yes. Sustainability is no longer just an option, as some still believe, but has become an integral part of every project’s mission.

Our dossier about drones:

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