VAL: Out! Drone Lighting: In! Drones Used As Lighting Stands


A team of researchers from MIT and Cornell are expected to present a protype of a drone they have been developing specifically designed to ease the task of ‘holding lights’ this August. To be clear, drones have already been used by numerous photographers and filmmakers as a way to light scenes, but this particular drone has a couple interesting abilities that help set it apart from the crowd. The most incredible being it’s ability to detect motion of the camera and subject before automatically correcting it’s own position to provide consistent lighting.


Once a photographer inputs the direction he wishes the rim light to be cast on the subject, along with the width of the rim light he desires, the drone takes post over the subject in a location which allows it to produce the light in a size and direction specific to the values the photographer tells the drone he wants to shoot with.

The drone then communicates with the camera and subject (using special sensors and a laser rangefinder) at a rate of about 20 times a second. In doing so it checks for a change in location of the camera or subject and, if the either has moved, the drone takes it upon itself to reposition.


Of course, the idea of an auto drone is not necessarily new. Airdog and HEXO+ are both poised to start shipping drones which “automatically” follow a projected path that is controlled using the GPS and accelerometer in the photographer’s smartphone. At the time, however, both of these units will only serve to take video and photos, not provide a precise and automated lighting pattern like the MIT drone is capable of.

No information about pricing is available yet, but with both other ‘tracking drones’ at ~$850 and ~$1300 we don’t expect it to be cheap.

[MIT | Airdog | HEXO+]

  • Andrew Sible

    weird! I would feel so awkward using that, but I see some awesome uses for video and specialty subjects

  • Matth Gilles

    Talking with the model looks pretty hard…

  • z

    Does it have a failsafe “keep clear of subject and other objects” feature I hope… I’d be scared of rogue rotating fans!

  • Wil Fry

    They need to make one that can (1) carry heavy gear and (2) follow me around with my backpack so I don’t have to carry anything when I’m on foot and *not* shooting. :-)

  • Moe Film

    That’s it, teach them how to track our every movement… so they can kill us, with proper lighting of course. LOL

  • Orvil Wright

    Great. A room full of sensors with framework to hang them
    from, hanging wires, noise levels so loud that one needs ear protection, 4 whirring
    blades at a gazillion RPM in close proximity to the subject, potential for the
    computer to go berserk and turn your whole studio into coleslaw… Only in academia.

  • Jim Johnson

    Gimmick. Completely impractical.

    I mean, it’s an interesting concept and no doubt will be adapted to some purpose that we can’t envision now, but it won’t be as a replacement for photographers’ assistants or light stands.