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Millions watched as Hollywood stars played with Flying LEGO® Bricks

Millions watched as Hollywood stars played with Flying LEGO® Bricks

More than four million viewers watched as Tim Merritt from the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University presented the so-called Flying LEGO® Bricks on Spanish TV. The system is an example of how to use physical representation of data as an educational tool for construction and exploration of physical movement.

Last modified: 13.02.2020

Most likely, you have never had a personal encounter with Hollywood Stars like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence – and in case you have, you probably have never experienced them being amazed by your work? This was nevertheless the case for Associate Professor Tim Merritt from the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University.

In early January, he and his colleague Roel Vertegaal from the Human Media Lab, Queens University, were invited to the famous Spanish television show El Hormiguero to present their joint project: Flying LEGO® Bricks. On the same evening, the two American actors visited the show, and they were given the opportunity to test the researchers' advanced toys.

Can also be used in architecture

The Flying LEGO® Bricks project was created in a collaboration between Aalborg University, Human Media Lab and the LEGO Group’s Creative Play Lab, but the basis for the project is the so-called GridDrones system. This is the result of many years of research into “data physicalisation”, i.e. building physical representations of data.

Flying LEGO® Bricks consists of specially designed drones that together form a swarm of flying blocks. The drones are controlled by a user with a handheld controller in the shape of a butterfly that is made from two wing-shaped LEGO baseplate, on which different colored LEGO bricks are mounted. Each brick sets the position of a drone, and by moving the controller, tilting and bending the butterfly wings, the physical location of the flying drones mimic the shape and movements.

While physical representations of information have existed for centuries, it has only recently become possible to create dynamic physical visualisations of digital information.

- Computer screens are flat, thus representing information on them is limited to the picture plane. Virtual reality and augmented reality can bring virtual objects into the physical space, but we can not touch the holograms. However, with this system we bring real physical objects into the space that can be touched and manipulated directly, Tim Merritt explains.

He adds that the system can also be used when developing natural-size prototypes in architectural planning.

- Architects can use GridDrones as a tool to involve the client in a physical design process— where it is common for architects to use wires, cardboard and other artefacts to mock up a proposed building design. With GridDrones, this process expands to three dimensions, providing a more realistic approximation of volume and form that can be easily adjusted in life-size.

New educational applications

By combining GridDrones with the classic LEGO bricks, the researchers have also shown that the system can be used as an educational tool for the construction and exploration of physical movement. In addition to being presented to Spanish TV viewers, the system has been tested by children at the LEGO® World Expo in Copenhagen in 2018 - with great success:

- All of the participants claimed to enjoy the experience, and we identified different patterns of play behaviour during the sessions. Going forward, we need to do more research on how we can use the system and technology to develop new educational applications for example, representing the movements of planets or to make a physical musical instrument. Imagine the popular game, Guitar Hero in three dimensions, where tapping and moving a drone could change the music. The possibilities are endless, Tim Merritt says.

Do you want to know more?

The Flying LEGO® Bricks project was created in a collaboration between the research group Human-Centered Computing at the Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University; Human Media Lab, Queen's University and the LEGO Group's Creative Play Lab.

Want to know more about Flying LEGO® Bricks and the research behind it?


Associate Professor Tim Merritt
Human-Centered Computing, Department of Computer Science
Aalborg University
Phone: 4244 2899
E-mail: merritt@cs.aau.dk


Communications Officer
Nina Hermansen
Phone: 2090 1829
Mail: ninah@cs.aau.dk