Can brands learn to harness the creative power of drones?

To date, drones have mainly earned a reputation as toys, or as a technology that might be able to deliver packages to us very, very quickly. But Paint by Drone, a new project from design and innovation group Carlo Ratti Associati, shows that drones can have a creative side too.

Paint by Drones uses a fleet of drones equipped with spray paint tanks that function like a printing process. The drones are digitally programmed using advanced monitoring systems, and can draw content submitted via an app. The technology gives designers and architects the ability to mount large-scale art projects in just a few hours on any surface. Paint by Drone’s first projects will premiere in Europe in late 2017.

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“The project opens the door to many possibilities: artistic input can come from either crowd-sourced platforms, from a curator orchestrating the contributions of several people of from a single artist,” Carlo Ratti, founder and MIT professor, told the Innovation Group. “In the crowd-sourced case, people can use a mobile app to draw their own designs, imagining how that would look at the urban scale. At the moment, we are focusing on applying our ‘phygital graffiti’ in public spaces to promote citizen engagement – but we do not exclude the possibility to collaborate with the private sector in the future.”

One brand has already made a strong case for harnessing the creative power of drones. During the halftime show at February’s Super Bowl, Intel kicked off the halftime performance with a unique light show in the sky created with 300 Intel drones. The drones used have programmable LEDs and are specifically designed for festivals and entertainment events. The Super Bowl halftime show was watched by an audience of 172 million, according to Fox, giving Intel the 10th–highest brand mentions on  Twitter for the night.

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“The potential for these light show drones is endless,” said Josh Walden, senior vice president of Intel’s New Technology Group, in a statement. “We hope this experience inspires other creatives, artists, and innovators to really think about how they can incorporate drone technology in new ways that have yet to even be thought of.”

Drones have previously been used in advertising for creative stunts. Last fall, Uber used drones to fly ads to drivers stuck in traffic in Mexico City. “Driving by yourself? This is why you can never see the volcanoes,” read one banner. In Brazil, Baby Dove used drones as mechanical storks to deliver baby supplies to expectant mothers. And brands from Patron to the New York Times are using drones to capture unique 3D footage.

But there is plenty of room to incorporate more creativity into drone stunts. For a recent campaign, Lego had engineers from Singapore Polytechnic build a drone prototype based on a model children had designed with Lego bricks. The final result resembled a flying cloud lit up with rainbow LEDs that could rain confetti and candy.

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More than 770,000 people have registered to fly drones in the United States, a hobby that FAA director Michael Huerta said has “captured people’s imaginations.” As today’s forward-thinking technologists demonstrate, brands and artists are just beginning to capture the creative possibilities of drones.