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A Self-Organizing Drone Army Dances with Humans

In 'Dancing with Drones,' Collmot Robotics use semi-autonomous quadcopters to create a visual spectacle and address our relationship with drones.

A swarm of semi-autonomous drones feature in this multimedia dance where they're paired with a group of humans, reacting to the movements of the lead dancer. The piece, Dancing with Droneswith music by Zagar, premiered at the Sziget Festival held in Budapest, Hungary earlier this year.

It is by Collmot Robotics whose artistic director is Nina Kov, a choreographer and dancer, and CEO is Gábor Vásárhely, a drone expert. The drones are self-organizing, use GPS to navigate, communicate directly with one another using radio, and flock in a manner similar to birds. They were developed by physics professor Tamás Vicsek and his team at the department of biological physics at Eötvös University, Budapest where they demonstrated the world's first autonomous outdoor flock back in 2014.


The scientists developed the quadcopters' movements based on the group dynamics and hierarchy of flocking pigeons—in the show, the lead dancer, using a custom device on their hand, becomes the leader of the flock and instigates the drones' movements through motion gesture. Clad in LED lights the drones hover around the dancers like robotic birds.

NIna Kov and lead dancer. Photo credit: Edit Blaumann

Drones have been used a lot in art, but they've also developed a notorious reputation thanks to their use by the US military. Collmot are hoping to redress the balance. "We envision a future where the sky is full of buzzing drones, moving safely and accurately thanks to multi-drones technology," Gábor Vásárhely tells The Creators Project. "We set out to create the piece to offer an alternative vision to UAVs used for military and surveillance purposes. How a larger public will get to know and love civilian drones is not an easy task, albeit an important one, and one of Collmot's first projects is set to challenge negative perceptions."

Vásárhely says Dancing with Drones isunique in its ease of controlling the drones, noting how "flock-control" can be achieved by non-experts with virtually no training due to the gesture-controlled technique, making their application for human-drone performance much more accessible. There are also various safety measures in place to avoid any dangers that might come about due to untrained persons controlling them, like built-in mechanisms to avoid the drones crashing into one another, and preprogramming to avoid objects like walls, etc along with the ability to land safely.


As for Kov, as a dancer and choreographer, she has worked with machines and digital interfaces before, dancing herself with an RC helicopter and choreographing a dancer with an interactive projection by Hellicar & Lewis in Divide By Zero.

"My works revolves around the intersections of human-machine dance collaborations," Kov tells The Creators Project. "When working with flying machines, you have to adapt a whole new set of reference points [for the choreography]. Space, instead of using the human body as a starting point, becomes a mix of absolute and relative coordinates, decomposed in xyz and cardinal directions. Time, instead of the counting dancers use, is expressed related to the speed of drones in m/s. This kind of show can also address a lot of questions beyond the layer of movement and spectacle. I find humanity's ambivalent relationship with technology, science, and progress very inspiring—how it is possible that we are simultaneously scared of it and placing all our hopes in it?"

Photo credit: Kristof Hegedus

Image credit: Dancing with Drones/CollMot Robotics

Image credit: Dancing with Drones/CollMot Robotics

Image credit: Dancing with Drones/CollMot Robotics

The dancers, music composer Balázs Zságer, technical director Gábor Vásárhelyi and artistic director Nina Kov. Photo credit: Edit Blaumann

Click here to learn more about Collmot Robotics.


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