In the 1960s sci-fi spy thriller series The Prisoner, the residents of a small coastal resort are kept from escaping their location by a weird floating white balloon called Rover, which recaptures or eliminates anyone who tries to leave. Here in 2018, a group Random International has created a fleet of similar-looking autonomous flying spheres, which flock together like a slow-motion group of birds, while keeping an eye on nearby humans.
The helium-filled foil spheres are part of a project called Zoological. They are piloted by an onboard drone-style flight system while using Lidar technology — the same pulsed laser technology which helps power autonomous cars — to make sense of what is happening around them. By using Lidar, the spheres are able to work out depth data concerning their environment and determine their formation and groupings. They can also act out different moods by way of programmed “emotions.” These mean that, one day, they might choose to stay away from groups of people by remaining high up in the air. On other days, they might alternatively — and probably a bit more disconcertingly — get bolder and float closer to the ground, while singling out one particular person to follow.
For anyone worrying about these autonomous flying spheres, though, don’t be too alarmed: They are not part of some next-generation surveillance technology (even though police drones really are on the way.) Instead, they are an art installation that make up one part of an exhibition called +/- Human, taking place in the U.K. They are the work of award-winning choreographer and director Wayne McGregor, and are intended to examine the relationship between mechanical autonomy and human beings.
This isn’t the first weird algorithmic art project we’ve covered at Digital Trends. Recently, we wrote about a crazy robot table which uses a grid of ferrofluid liquid rocket fuel “pixels” to respond to passers-by. Then there is also this giant art installation which displays 3D selfies on an enormous 850,000-LED “head.” It seems that, just like the rest of us, the art world is to wrap their minds around exactly what today’s technology will mean for the future!