Earlier this year, graffiti artist and feces portrait painter KATSU carried out what has been described as the first recorded act of drone graffiti. Using a modified quadcopter, KATSU sprayed a thin, red scribble over the face of Kendall Jenner on a gigantic advertising billboard in New York City. It wasn't the most legible of tags, but it was there. Now, KATSU wants to make this power available to all, and earlier this month he launched ICARUS ONE: the "world's first open-source paint drone."
The ICARUS ONE website is essentially a step-by-step guide to building your own graffiti drone, including a shopping list with links to buy the necessary parts. Would-be flying graffiti artists will need a bunch of electronics to make the ICARUS controller, a steel tomato cage to hold the spray paint can in place, and an actual drone to do the flying. KATSU's guide is built for the DJI Phantom 2, which costs around $500.
"Imagine sitting on a rooftop at night while your drone tags the building across the street."
Creating the final product isn't exactly easy (there's a fair amount of soldering required, as well as access to a 3D printer to create the attachment that operates the spray can), but it's well within the grasp of any dedicated tinkerer. There's also an option to buy a graffiti drone pre-made, although KATSU told Vice that these orders would only be considered on a "case-by-case basis." The artist stressed that the challenge of building the ICARUS ONE is more than worth it: "Imagine scrawling your name or a doodle 100 feet by 100 feet. Imagine sitting on a rooftop at night while your drone tags the building across the street."
At the moment, though, controlled paintwork isn't something ICARUS is capable of. Videos of KATSU's drones in action (including a series of canvas artworks he produced in 2014) show that simply controlling the craft is a challenge. "It’s like 50 percent me having control and 50 percent the drone kind of like saying, ‘I need to turn this way to accomplish what you want me to do but still maintain myself so I don’t just fly into the wall and explode.’ Which it does, all the time," KATSU told the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College last year.
However, KATSU says this is only the beginning for the project. The artist claims that he's planning to develop a second version of the drone (named ICARUS TWO) that will use computer vision to let artists draw their tag on an iPad before the drone executes it automatically. It sounds ambitious, but KATSU is accustomed to dreaming big. When asked by VICE to name a graffiti target that conventional methods can't reach but ICARUS can, his reply is simple: "Statue of Liberty's face."