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Drones make a splash spray painting crowdsourced graffiti

In a collaboration between man and machine, humans designed the large-scale image and a swarm of drones painted it.

Four drones armed with cans of spray paint worked on the canvas simultaneously. 
Andrea Guermani

Watch out Banksy. When it comes to street art, you're facing some serious competition from drones.  

A swarm of artsy UAVs from Tsuru Robotics painted a large-scale work of graffiti on a giant public canvas in Torino, Italy, last week -- and it did so, one could say, with flying colors.  

Just call me Vincent van Drone. 

GIF by Leslie Katz/CNET

As part of a collaborative project called UFO-Urban Flying Opera, thousands of people contributed, via app, visual representations inspired by the theme "Design the City." A team of art curators selected and combined about 100 of the designs, then four flying drones drew the image simultaneously over the course of two days using about 2,034 feet of paint. 

The large-scale vertical painting stood 46x39 feet. A central management system controlled the UAVs in real time, and a monitoring system tracked their precise location and coordinated their formation as they flew, wielding tanks of spray paint, inside a cathedral-like industrial structure in Aurelio Peccei park on Torino's outskirts. 

The art prompt asked participants around the world to ponder how they see or imagine their city, or any city, and what they love about urban life or want from it. 

The painting showed a swirl of shapes -- buildings, houses, helicopters, trees, flowers, stick figures -- layered in gray, magenta and light blue. The word "welcome" appears on the right and the words "city life" on the lower left.  

"The city is an open canvas, where people can inscribe their stories in many ways," said Professor Carlo Ratti of MIT's Sensable City Lab and the international design and innovation firm CRA, which curated the project. "Such processes have always been happening; however, with UFO we tried to accelerate them, using drone technology to allow for a new use of painting as a means of expression." 

A swatch of the finished large-scale painting. 

Andrea Guermani

Originally published July 3, 2:56 p.m. PT.