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One of the trickiest aspects of off-camera illumination is having to frequently adjust the position and strength of the light as you and your subject move around. But imagine a small drone that would be able to analyze all the elements in the scene, and constantly position itself perfectly for the lighting you want. That’s what a team from MIT and Cornell are working on, and it’s called Litrobot.
The initial iteration of the Litrobot is designed for rim lighting, to provide a single, powerful light source around the edge of the subject. And while the concept itself is fairly simple, the actual design side of things is remarkably complex. A key part of it is that the quadcopter tracks subjects using LIDAR, and is constantly taking low quality images that it uses to estimate the correct illumination, and moving towards a better position.
Particularly cool is the “aggresive mode”, which triggers the camera as soon as the drone is in the right position for lighting, so you don’t have to wait for it to settle down in the right position, for faster operation.
You can see some of the Litrobot in action in the video below—and there are still some obvious drawbacks. The big one is the noise level—it’s not a quiet device. But the potential here is fairly obvious. It should be possible to use Litrobot for other types of lighting, and the idea of having a semi-autonomous swarm of robots providing you with exactly the sort of lighting you want at all times? That’s pretty fantastic.