Flone and democratising air space

On 3 June Lot Amorós, Cristina Navarro and Alex Oliver set to work in Plataforma 0 on their project “Flone: The Flyer Phone”, awarded in the call for ideas Next Things Next Spaces 2013 by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Gijón) and Telefónica i+D

Published: Jun 03, 2013

By Montaña Hurtado Muñoz, (@zapatosrosas), Zapatos Rosas

The desire to fly and “conquer” aerial space has been present throughout almost the entire history of humankind. In the collective memory we have the legend of Dedalus and Icarus, which tells us how these two brothers escaped from the island of Minos by making wings of feathers and wax, and how Icarus died in his zeal to get too close to the sun by falling after the heat had melted his wings. But beyond legends and their corresponding moral interpretations, the first step towards the true conquest of space was the invention of the kite in China, in the 4th Century B.C. Initially used as a device for signalling and military communication by use of a colour code, it represented the first artefact that a human being made to fly.

From this point on, a series of events followed each other ranging from the famous drawings and studies by Leonardo da Vinci to the appearance of hot air balloons in the 18th century, dirigibles in the 19th century, the building of the first aeroplanes in the early 20th century, the landing of men on the moon in the 1970s and the increasingly generalised use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) on the part of governments with questionable uses in some cases.

Yet this conquest of space has neither been nor is democratic and transparent despite that from the earth’s surface to a height of 300 metres the air is public space, public air, although without any legislation. And it is precisely this public air which the working team made up by IT engineer and transdisciplinary artist Lot Amorós, technical engineer Cristina Navarro and industrial engineer Alexander Oliver aim to recover in their project Flone: The Flyer Phone”, awarded in the residency call for Next Things Next Spaces 2013 by LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial and Telefónica I+D. A project selected out of more than 40 presented proposals by a jury formed by Pablo Rodríguez, Oriol Lloret and Pere Labrador from Telefónica I+D; Ramón Sangüesa from Co-Creating Cultures / UPC; Benjamil Weil, David Dalmazzo and David Pello from LABoral; Alicia Vieira from ClusterTIC; and Mónica Bello, artistic director of VIDA.

The call for ideas was aimed at creators who work in the intersection of art and new technologies and one of the aspects taken into consideration was the use of open hardware and that the produced work would be reproduced by society. The proposal would be based on the Internet of Things and its application in art, architecture and technology in order to create new opportunities in people’s relations with the public space, either permanently or on a one-off basis, and to reflect on how the Internet of Things, Machine-to-Machine Interactions and Intelligent Spaces influence people’s lives both at the individual and collective level.

Flone aims to democratise the accessibility and use of unmanned flying devices for the public, giving access to aerial space to all citizens, places where we never thought we would get to or viewpoints that we didn´t think we would reach, something which could be defined as democratising “public air”, although it also has many possibilities in the artistic and professional fields. And how can Flone achieve all of this?

Flone is a “backpack” which locks the telephone with a clip and connects it at the same time to an Arduino IOIO board or PhoneDrone by means of a USB cable. In this way, the Smartphone becomes an autonomous flying apparatus with a wide range of functions as a result of combining its different applications (photography, GPS, microphone, accelerometers, LED flash, speaker) and its telematic connections (WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth). In this way it is converted into an unmanned multimedia aerial vehicle or into a self-reliant mobile communication unit to ascend to a maximum height of twenty metres, descend and rotate. It can take photographs at different heights and even take photos at 360º.

While the use of aerial space and, therefore, of drones seems to be restricted and controlled by governments, the increasingly generalised and extended use of smart phones is opening up new forms of citizen empowerment and new ways of communicating with other people and our own surroundings, thanks to their small size and light weight, wide range of functions and capacity to keep us permanently connected to the internet. However, without a doubt, one of the areas in which the proliferation of mobile devices has had the most impact is in photography and video, and it is precisely in these areas that Flone aims to provide greater capabilities.

From 3 June, Lot Amorós and Cristina Navarro will move to Gijón, where they will start their residency at  Plataforma 0 (Area of Research, Production and Resources at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Gijón, specialised in the intersections of art, science, technology, creative industries and society), a space where they will start networking with Alex Oliver. Once the physical design and software plans have been defined, the intention of this work team is to carry out the process in a transparent way, thereby making it possible for other people to get involved due to the social and open character of the project.

During this first stage in Gijón, two prototypes of Flone will be fabricated: one with the Smartphone vertically inclined and another with the Smartphone in horizontal inclination, and the pros and cons of each configuration will be evaluated, as well as the most suitable materials for its construction. The initial plan will also be developed for the flight application and the first programmes and indoor test flights, making use of the size of LABoral for testing stability and sensor reading, which will then be followed by outdoor flight tests. Similarly, thanks to the conditions offered by fabLAB at LABoral, they will be able to construct and improve prototype to prototype and build new parts in the event of accidents.

The team will work at LABoral until 21 July and afterwards at Telefónica i+D where they will set about perfecting the apparatus, subjecting it to various stress tests under different conditions, both favourable and unfavourable, in order to guarantee the viability of the operation and safety of the device. Additionally, the software will be consolidated and the application will be developed for intuitive operation, for both flight (automatic, manual and GPS-guided) and landings (including those for emergency), as well as for taking photographs, video recording and uploading content to the internet...

In terms of the usefulness of Flone, Lot Amorós explained to us: “Making the production of aerial images accessible to everyone opens up a universe of information which until now was only within the reach of large companies with very costly technology, both economically and environmentally. Doing it with an apparatus that you already have in your pocket could bring about a social, technological and ecological revolution, topographers who wish to prepare land models, architects who want to place their architecture in real space, archaeologists who want to evaluate their excavations, environmental groups wishing to denounce the transformation of an area, photographers looking for new perspectives, journalists who wish to document important events, and it is precisely that aerial images captivate us with the density of information they usually provide, the location of a forest, the model of a city or the structure of a garden”.

When it comes to possible misuses and their consequences, for example, regarding personal privacy (there is anti-drone clothing), he adds: “We want people to understand the potential in imagining space in another way, that they fall in love with the tool, so that when the moment comes to legislate the air, communities can establish themselves as active agents in making proposals who are taken into account in building an aerial culture based on sharing and not on control”.

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