Cirque du Soleil Embraces The Future With Flying Lampshades

By Joelle Renstrom | 5 years ago

lampshadesOf course the Carnival of the Future features robots, but I don’t necessarily expect the same of Cirque du Soleil. But it’s good to know that the world’s most extravagant circus is capable of surprises—I mean, other than terrifying accidents—and they’re embarking on a new endeavor that brings robotics into their already breathtaking show.

The project starts with ETH Zurich, a university known for being a hub of ground-breaking technology and science. ETH has a Flying Machine Arena (FMA)—a “portable space devoted to autonomous flight.” The FMA houses, records, and facilitates the flight of various objects, though the quadrocopter is the favorite given its maneuverability. Given the FMA’s success, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they developed their own performance studio to display their awesome flying vehicles. Thus, Verity Studios, a place where ETH’s flying robots and Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic imaginations merge, was born.

The five-minute film below, called “Sparked,” is the partnership’s first effort, and features flying quadrocopters wearing lampshades. Oh, and there’s a human in it too, but who really cares about that? Also worth notinge, there’s no CGI involved in this footage. These robots are the real deal.

I love the interaction and orchestration between the robots and the human in the film. You can definitely see Cirque du Soleil’s touch on the visual side of things, which enhances the already impressive capabilities of the flying robots. If you’re curious about how the team arrived at the final performance and cut, check out the “behind the scenes” video below. It’s really cool that the team regarded each lampshade like a character with its own name and personality, as illustrated by the color and shape of its dressings.

Another interesting aspect of the shoot is the interplay between the human crew and the quadrocopters. As is a bigger worry with drones, there were a couple of minor collisions, but Verity co-founder Markus Waibel says the humans and the robots “just jostled past each other and continued on with their choreography as if nothing exceptional had happened.” Apparently, the only casualty of the shoot was a lamp, which tipped over in the wind produced by the flying machines.

Like Disney Research, Verity Studios is poised to fuse robots with artistic endeavors. And I’ll admit, robots are pretty much the only reason I’d go to see a Cirque de Soleil performance, so I’m ready to be converted.

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