Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

SkyCall: The drone that's your personal tour guide

Meet SkyCall, a flying robot that guides you to your destination. Find out how it works... Meet SkyCall, a flying robot that guides you to your destination. Find out how it works...
Lost? SkyCall to the rescue
Step 1: Call
Step 2: GPS navigation
Step 3: Walk and talk
Step 4: Futuristic footage
Step 5: Safe and sound
  • Introducing SkyCall, the flying robot turned personal tour guide
  • Students at MIT have been using drone to navigate maze-like campus
  • Quadrocopter is brainchild of MIT scientists, hope to use technology in rescue missions

Art of Movement is CNN's monthly show exploring the latest innovations in art, culture, science and technology.

(CNN) -- It's your first day at university and you've got 15 minutes to get to room 9-209. Easy, right?

What if the campus is a labyrinth of unfamiliar buildings stretching over a whopping 168 acres? Suddenly, finding that room feels a bit like locating a particular grain of sand at the beach.

Never fear, SkyCall is here -- a flying robot that guides you to your destination, pointing out important landmarks along the way.

It might seem like a scene from a sci-fi film, but at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), these high-tech drones are helping students navigate the maze-like site -- and could soon be escorting the rest of us around difficult environments too.

Read: Gimball -- Crash-happy flying robot to the rescue

"MIT campus is quite complex, it has a lot of buildings, and sometimes people do get lost," said Carlo Ratti, director of the institute's Senseable City Lab, which created the futuristic device.

"We had a lot of new students on campus, and saw this as a good opportunity to test it," he added. "It's a mere step towards using SkyCall in more complex situations, such as search-and-rescue missions."

Flying robots perform amazing acrobatics
Flying robots inspired by birds?
GimBall: Fying robot to the rescue

Only a SkyCall away

So how does this floating tour guide work? After downloading the SkyCall app to their smartphones, visitors call the robot, which tracks their GPS location and flies to the rescue.

They then type the room number into their mobiles, and SkyCall guides them there -- pointing out landmarks using a small speaker.

Watch: Flying robots' aerial acrobatics

Cruising at a leisurely 6 kilometers per hour (3.7 mph), the quadropcopter -- featuring four propellers -- has enough battery power to last 15 minutes.

In-built sonar sensors ensure SkyCall doesn't crash into obstacles. And should the visitor fall behind at any point, the clever copter will wait for them to catch up -- much like a real-life tour guide.

"People were having a lot of fun with it -- it's kind of like an unusual travel companion," said Ratti.

"It can travel 1 mile (1.6 kilometers), but this could easily be a lot more if you have a bigger battery. At the moment it's more of an experimental project."


Indeed, it's hoped that in the future, SkyCall could be developed into everything from city guides for tourists, to rescue robots for survivors of disaster sites.

Featuring an in-built camera, the device could relay footage back to others -- particularly useful in rescue missions. Or it may link-up to the user's phone, giving them a bird's eye view of the journey.

Watch: Robots inspired by birds

People were having a lot of fun with it -- it's kind of like an unusual travel companion
Carlo Ratti, director of MIT's Senseable City Lab

The researchers at MIT's Senseable City Lab are looking at other ways drones could be used in everyday life.

"Drones have had quite bad press because of the military implications," explained Ratti. "But this project this is about helping people.

"We are trying to look at the positive side of drones -- people controlling drones, rather than the skepticism around drones controlling people."

Senseable design?

SkyCall is part of a bigger program at Senseable City Lab, exploring how people could use new technology in urban environments.

Other projects include robotic bartenders, or devices to measure road rage while driving.

"We have many applications that will help us carry out our everyday tasks," said Ratti.

"I think in the case of SkyCall -- and drones in general -- people find it quite intriguing to have a flying companion."

Could SkyCall be our high-tech guardian angel of the future? At the very least, it could make the first day of university a lot less daunting.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:09 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Ever since musician Eduardo Miranda met a patient with locked in syndrome 11 years ago, he has been on a mission to create a way for the paralyzed to make music.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Jason Hullinger, a computer security architect in Los Angeles, went to Joshua Tree National Park in December to catch the Geminid meteor shower.
For thousands of years, man has looked to the stars in search of answers. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?
updated 10:10 AM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
From the realms of science fiction to science fact, Rosetta mission's scientists succeeded in landing a washing machine-sized probe named Philae on a moving comet.
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact
Armed with the most advanced marine technology available, archaeologists have recovered new treasures from the ancient shipwreck.
updated 9:43 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Meet KAO=S, a band of spellbinding musicians fusing Japanese cultural icons against a backdrop of rock and musical theater.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Earthbound audience captivated as surreal Twitter conversation takes place 300M miles away.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony at Symphony Hall.
The slightest movement by this man's hand can change the behavior of at least 100 people.
updated 10:41 AM EST, Tue November 11, 2014
"A living painting is many things," says artist and designer Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic. "It's a painting in process, it's a work of film, it's an actual tactile painting."
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
For half a century, "Alvin" has quietly traveled through the seven seas, uncovering the ocean's mysteries.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.