Imagine a future where your furniture flies, reacting and responding to your everyday needs. You could have an almost-sentient desk that jets off when it feels you’re over-working, or a remote control that floats over when you think you’ve lost it.
In an interactive project dubbed “L’evolved,” Harshit Agrawal and Sang-Won Leigh, two researchers from the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, are exploring how to make everyday objects transform into “flying smart agents.”
“We really look at this as a way of making the objects around us kind of speak with us,” Agrawal said. “In the sense that they somehow know what they are doing, so they might prevent you from doing something wrong or light up your path in a dark environment.”
So far, their project features drones acting as flying tables that adjust to your height, fly away once you’re done, or auto-eject if you start using the wrong pen on your homework. They also have a lampshade drone that hovers above you, focusing light on where you need it when you’re reading a book in the dark.
To power their flying furniture, the pair used a motion capture system where a camera tracks everything in the room—including the person and the drone, which receives commands from the computer.
“The computer knows where the drone wants to go by tracking where the person is,” explained Leigh. “We are feeding that data from the computer to the drone so that it can move smoothly to the required position.”
Currently, the duo faces two main challenges: stabilizing the drone, and feeding it a regular power supply (at the moment, it’s connected to a power socket).
Drones can’t support much weight yet, so the team opted for a paper tabletop. They soon found, however, that if they placed the tabletop directly on top of the drone, it blocked airflow. To solve this problem, they made the distance between the drone base and its paper tabletop greater so it could keep flying.
Agrawal said that in the future, they could optimize stability by replacing a hovering desk with one that parks in front of users when they need it, then clears off when the user has finished their task.
Ultimately, the researchers are set on enchanting everyday appliances so that they surpass their limitations as static objects, and have a more socially collaborative relationship with their human owners.