The Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase at the 2012 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity opened with a spectacular live show, Meet Your Creator, that was executed by KMel Robotics together with Marshmallow Laser Feast with the help of Vicon technology. Approximately seven and a half minutes in length, the presentation featured 16 quadrotors, performing a synchronized ballet of light and sound on stage in a dark theater for an audience of more than 3,000 event attendees.
Experts in hardware design and high-performance control, KMel Robotics founders Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger were primarily focused on developing experimental robotics for academia and research when Saatchi & Saatchi approached them about applying their technology to a live entertainment project. Working with a core creative and technical team of about 10-12 individuals from Saatchi & Saatchi and Marshmallow Laser Feast, KMel was tasked with managing the quadrotor component of the show, wirelessly remote-controlled vehicles that were choreographed to move, reflect and shine light in a performance that evoked a futuristic, extraterrestrial-inspired aesthetic.
"KMel has been using Vicon products in our robotic research for four years now and they have always performed flawlessly. There was a tremendous amount of pressure and detail coordination involved in creating this project, especially because of the live element, so we needed a reliable system that we could easily manipulate to suit our needs," explained Mellinger. "Vicon's cameras are top notch we relied on them heavily to pull off such a tightly choreographed live performance of our custom-designed quadrotors."
18 Vicon cameras – a mix of T40s and T160s were fitted onto a truss built 7.5 meters above the ground around the stage. The quadrotors came to life, hovering around the stage controlled wirelessly through software developed by the KMel team. Each vehicle was fitted with four RGB LEDs, two custom radio modules to receive and process commands, and reflective tracking markers so that their exact location could be tracked throughout the performance by the Vicon cameras and Tracker software. The Vicon tracking data was ingested in real-time into KMel's proprietary control algorithms to calculate and communicate desired trajectory, and adjust the intensity and color of the lights on the quadrotors.
"Subpixel accuracy was extremely important for this project because we rely on position estimates for the vehicles to follow the desired trajectories," Mellinger said. "At some points, the quadrotors were only 50cm apart, but we could maneuver the space easily because of the control and accuracy granted by our Vicon system."
KMel Robotics founders Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger are both alumni of the University of Pennsylvania, and first started their research into autonomous quadrotor helicopter flight at the institution's GRASP Lab, also a longtime Vicon customer. The duo continues to manufacture custom quadrotors, is actively working on multiple research projects and is also exploring several new opportunities to apply their technology to alternative live entertainment venues.