These days I am starting to feel that we are living in a futuristic time, at least, as depicted in sci-fi movies where society teems with robots and technology taking over the mundane tasks of human beings. It’s now normal to see ordinary household objects being upgraded and automated left and right. It started with the smartphone, and now our refrigerators, thermostats, and even fast food restaurants are getting swept under the growing tide of smartifying “dumb” machines and cutting down human labor.

Photo via MIT News

And human assistants just might be replaced by robots soon in the photography world as well. Researchers at MIT and Cornell have developed a flying, robotic lighting assistant that automatically detects and adjusts according to the movements of both subject and photographer. They simply call it a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). If this technology succeeds, the photographer could potentially control a whole group of automated lights to create complex lighting situations while cutting down on human labor costs at the same time.


Here is a basic rundown of how this lighting drone works. (MIT tested their drone for the rim lighting effect, because that required the most precision).

  1. The photographer chooses which direction he or she wants the light to come from.
  2. The photographer then specifies the width of the rim light desired.
  3. The drone then hovers about, automatically maintaining the rim light even when the subject moves and changes positions.
Photo via MIT News

Here is a video testing out the drone:


As I watched the test video of the drone, I noticed a couple of shortcomings with this flying lighting assistant. First, it’s pretty loud and distracting. The fan blowing the helicopter up also blows a bit on the subject’s hair, which could possibly be a problem if the photographer was shooting lightweight and delicate subjects such as leaves. Also, this drone probably requires a ton of power to keep it maintaining its sensors, signals and strobes on all the time. The video showed the drone powered through a bunch of messy cords, but in the future, it would probably require an amazing (and expensive) battery to keep it powered. Paying for this machine might as well equal out the human labor costs cut down in favor of this robotic assistant.

What do you think? Is an automated lighting assistant worth replacing a person you could direct just by talking to them? Or is this simply another unnecessary convenience tossed atop the growing pile of impractical technology?

[Video via MIT News]