Disney Builds Autonomous Graffiti Drone

Ever seen a bit of graffiti in a strange location and wondered how the graffiti artist got up there? It might have been a drone rather than an athletic teen. Disney research has just published an interesting research paper that describes the PaintCopter: an autonomous drone fitted with a can of spray paint on a pan-tilt arm. It’s more than just sticking a paint can on a stick, though: they built a system that can scan a 3D surface then calculate how to paint a design on it, and then do it autonomously. The idea is that they want to use this to paint difficult-to-reach bits of theme parks, or to add seasonal decorations without sending someone up a ladder.

The PaintCopter is built from a DJI M100, with an Nvidia TX2 and Intel UP processor boards added to give it some more processing power. The paint can is fitted to a pan-tilt arm that can trigger the paint can with a servo. The surface is scanned using an Intel R200 RGBD (Red, Green Blue Depth) camera, which feeds data back to a base station, which then builds a 3D model of the target. The base station then calculates the path and orientation for the drone to paint the required design onto the surface, which is then passed to the drone for the actual painting. The examples that the team produced are simple but show that the technique can be quite effective at mapping the design onto a complex 3D surface. It only works with one color at the moment, but authors suggest that creating paint gradients and other more complex techniques are on the way.

29 thoughts on “Disney Builds Autonomous Graffiti Drone

    1. Simple – it allows for more development time. This is a research project, they want to focus on the control algorithms. So they run the paint (and/or power) via a hose, so they can test at length. Once the algos are in good shape, they can transition to battery powered platforms.

      You often see simplifying assumptions like this in research, it’s a useful way to do development and often speeds things along.

    2. one of the lines is a pneumatic tube it seems, for air delivery for the paint. though it might include the paint. i would hate to have to clean that line if it does have paint in it.

  1. Can’t Intel support anything past the introductory period? The link to the camera SDK is already cutting support.
    “The Intel® RealSense™ SDK has been discontinued. No ongoing support or updates will be available.”
    It seems like they come out with interesting technologies and then right after their introduction they drop support. Is there some masterfully intricate business model where doing this makes sense?

    1. Intel is a giant company that fosters competition between siloed R&D teams. I have yet to talk to a current or former employee that doesn’t paint it as an adversarial environment.

    2. Welcome to the customer-as-QA paradigm, where we pay for the privilege of testing out new software and business strategies that might get dropped at any time. And if it turns out to be useful and profitable, you never own it. You rent it as a “service.”

  2. “The idea is that they want to use this to paint difficult-to-reach bits of theme parks, or to add seasonal decorations without sending someone up a ladder.”

    Next up, intelligent paint.

  3. Train cars? Soon every tall building and water tower will be covered with unreadable text. I saw this coming years ago and have been waiting for it, net flinging cop drones too.

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