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Researchers Create A Flying Drone That Can Light Your Snapshots

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Is there anything flying quadcopters can’t do (besides give birth to human babies… yet?) Researchers at MIT and Cornell have created a flying flash rig that connects a light meter, photographic flash, and continuous light source so that photographers can get perfect shots from any angle.

The robot, which takes into account the position of the object and the position of the shooter when it hovers, can light subjects in very specific lighting and is designed to allow you to get a perfect snapshot.

It uses the idea of “rim width – the desired width, from the camera’s perspective, of the subject’s illuminated border” to “enable delicate rim lighting of action shots.” This lighting effect, according to a photography how-to, “is often referred to as back light or even hair lights, is simply light placed on your subject which gives the appearance of a light outline.”

Obviously you’re not going to want rim lighting all the time, so presumably you can train this robotic helper to add a richer variety to photos with a bit of tinkering. It is also a proof of concept and shows how seamlessly a robotic flyer can work with a human subject.

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“The challenge was the manipulation of the very difficult dynamics of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] and the feedback from the lighting estimation,” researcher Frédo Durand said. “That’s where we put a lot of our efforts, to make sure that the control of the drone could work at the very high speed that’s needed just to keep the thing flying and deal with the information from the lidar [the UAV's laser rangefinder] and the rim-lighting estimation.”

I, for one, welcome our robotic photographic overlords.