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Peter O'Shaughnessy

Web technologies and browser-based experiments

NodeCopter - geeking out with flying robots

What happens when you combine a room full of geeks with a bunch of programmable flying robots?

That’s what I found out when I attended NodeCopter last weekend, a “small, full day event where teams of 3 or 4 get together to hack on flying robots using JavaScript”.

A sell-out at Forward’s offices in London, I was fortunate to see a tweet from organiser Andrew Nesbitt just in time to snap up a free ticket before the last one went.


Photo by Andrew Nesbitt

A number of companies had each sponsored a Parrot AR Drone 2 (they cost about $300 each).

It was great fun and amazing to see all the very different - but equally cool - hacks that the different teams came up with.

My favourites were:

Making the drone bounce up and down in time to music beats, using dancer.js, a JavaScript audio library.

Drone hovering

Photo by Andrew Nesbitt

Controlling the drone using QR codes. They got the drone to hover in the air and walked up to it with a QR code on their phone or printed on paper. The code is recognised through the drone’s in-built video camera, instructing it to do various things such as ‘dancing’ in the air.

QR drone

Photo by Andrew Nesbitt

Controlling the drone by pressing buttons drawn with ink on a piece of A4 paper. They used special conductive ink hooked up to Arduino.

E-ink drone

Photo by Andrew Nesbitt

Controlling the drone with a Playstation controller, using the HTML5 Gamepad API.


As for me, I teamed up with Markus Kobler and Matt Copperwaite and created a Leap Motion hack.

Markus, me and Matt

Markus, me and Matt - photo by Andrew Nesbitt

For those who haven’t heard of it yet, the Leap Motion is a very small and accurate 3D gestural input device. In other words, you can simply wave your hands or fingers in the air to control things through your computer.

We programmed it so that moving your hand controls the movement of the drone in 3 dimensions. A simple 'tap’ gesture in the air makes the drone land back down. And the best bit: a 'circle’ gesture makes it do a barrel roll!

Here’s our demo from the end of the event:

Nodecopter London

All in all, it was surely the geekiest event I’ve ever attended, but also one of the most memorable!

NodeCopter events continue to be staged across the globe, so if you’d like to attend one yourself, be sure to keep an eye on the Upcoming Events page.

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