Artists and vandals have been attaching spray-paint cans to drones with varying degrees of success for several years now. These imprecise paint blasts deployed by quadcopters have generally resulted in not much more than messy spatter art or juvenile graffiti tags, but what if whole swarms of drones could be controlled in a coordinated way to paint colorful designs on the many bare construction facades that fill our cities?

Innovative architecture and design firm Carlo Ratti Associati has recently unveiled Paint By Drone, a portable system that harnesses an array of one-meter wide quadcopters, each loaded with a spray-paint tank able to create CMYK-colored designs. The drones are controlled by a central management system that monitors their positions in real-time.

Two installations are planned for later in 2017 to launch the system, one in Berlin, Germany and the other in Turin, Italy. These initial demonstrations will have the drones paint on scaffold sheeting in construction sites with the content delivered digitally through an app.

Both demonstrations will attempt a form of open-source collaborative design with everyday spectators being able to pick a spot on the wall to color in themselves, or use the app to draw their own design. Professor Carlo Ratti dubs the process "phygital graffiti".

"Any facade can become a space where to showcase, new forms of open-source, collaborative art or to visualize the heartbeat of a metropolis through real time data," said Ratti.

This drone painting system is the latest in a long line of compelling design projects from Carlo Ratti Associati that cleverly integrate technology into unique design outcomes. Last year the firm completely redesigned our food stores with their Supermarket of the Future, and before that we saw the Makr Shakr, a robotic bartender that can mix a ridiculous amount of different drink combinations.

The Paint By Drone system is an evolution of the firm's 2015 Vertical Plotter device which allowed images or notes to be printed onto large walls. The Vertical Plotter was a little like a giant inkjet printer head that could sit over a wall but the newer drone system offers a more portable way to create colorful murals without the expansive set up time of the earlier device.

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