With a press of a single drone, the drone swarm flies into position. Lit cubes change color and maintain their formation, adjusting dimensions to slight physical manipulation. By now, the Graphic User Interface (arrows on flat pictures of folders in a monitor) is over 40 years old. Is the Drone User Interface the system that will finally replace it?
Developed by researchers at Queen’s University, the BitDrones System is envisioned as a collaborative, three dimensional interface. A user can toggle through options on a menu of drones, which rotate in a circle like an old iPod click wheel as created by Tony Stark. Once the options are selected, cubes fly into place as free-floating shapes for the architect to tweak.
At one moment in a demonstrational video, the architect selects a color from a palette presented on a screen by a third variety of tiny quadcopter. Instantly, his cube drones have a reddish hue. Shortly after that, the screen changes to an incoming Skype call. The drone is now an airborne video phone, and the collaborator remotely moves the cubes.
It’s all very lovely in a proof-of-concept way, but it’s still just a bunch of cubes floating in the air. A computer screen reveals the cubes as proxies for building blocks, but it takes that last step to turn the drone interface from a playful novelty into a useful tool.
Neat as it is, I expect only a minority of reports ever being made this way. Instead, it seems a very modern adaptation of an architect’s clay or modular miniature structures. For now, I’ll stick to LEGOs.