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Drone Testing Institute

Part 1 Project 2013
Michael Pybus
Newcastle University Newcastle-Upon-Tyne UK
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have entered the public consciousness in recent years as their controversial use in warfare and surveillance becomes more widespread. Installations such as Under the Shadow of the Drone by artist James Bridle illustrate our uneasy relationship with these machines as they increasingly enter public view (or hover just out of sight of it).

The brief asked students develop a test institute that occupied a kilometre-long stretch of coast in Hartlepool, formerly occupied by a large abandoned industrial works. The test was to be derived from studies of the body and its relationship to the world. I chose to study myself moving through space using dislocated vision, watching myself move in real-time via a camera mounted to my back. This study developed into an interest in the surveillance culture of drones, and the possibility of an architecture derived from the drone’s visual field.

The project responds to the prevalence of drones by suggesting a Drone Testing Institute, in which drones are developed within an architecture that attempts to make itself impossible for the drone to fully comprehend. My movements were translated into a set of temporal ‘glyphs’ that become the basis for three-dimensional projections based on the flight path of a typical militarised drone. The projections were designed to confuse the drone’s sense of distance, causing difficulty in targeting the structure in the landscape. The architecture attempts to be drone-proof. At the same time, it hides a runway, hangar and control space for the drone, so that the architecture and drone are in dialogue with each other.

The architecture is a series of large concrete elements that appear as abstracted, sculptural forms. However, they are precisely calibrated to confuse the drone’s (or its remote pilot’s) sense of spatial awareness, never allowing the whole picture of the Institute to be clearly seen. The Institute operates as a kind of visual camouflage, despite the scale of the elements that make it up: a drone-proof architecture for a future in which drones are everywhere.

Michael Pybus


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