Franchise Freedom - a flying sculpture by Studio Drift in partnership with BMW is a performative artwork at the interface between technology, science, and art. An autonomous flying swarm of 300 Intel® Shooting Star™ drones, Franchise Freedom exposes the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers. Music composed and played by Joep Beving.

 New York Times render by Charles Castermans.

Franchise Freedom premiered at Faena hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach 2017.  Franchise Freedom is a performative artwork at the interface between technology, science, and art. 

An autonomous flying swarm of 300 Intel® Shooting Star™drones, Franchise Freedom exposes the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers. The sacrifice made by the individual subjecting to the group gives of the illusion of freedom, creating a never-ending cycle. It is the first time that a natural phenomenon will be imitated by machines working with decentralized algorithms at this scale. Franchise Freedom is inspired by the spectacle of starlings clustering together in massive swarms flying through the sky in thousands. They create breathtaking aerial displays that are seemingly rehearsed, but are in fact natural cohesions of movement and flight. Each maneuver is completely integrated, and no bird works alone. When swarming they are powerful and dominate the sky.

Franchise Freedom questions the delicate balance between the group and the individual. Although the patterns appear random, and the impression of such a swarm may remind us of freedom, the behavior of these birds is completely orchestrated and subject to many rules and survival instincts. There is a tremendous beauty in watching these sudden decisions of thousands of individuals and their reactions to one another. If every bird were to operate on its own, complete chaos would be the result. Just like birds, people find safety in a group, while at the same time they are forced to act according to a set of rules on which society functions. One who chooses complete individual freedom above these rules is forced to operate outside of society. What is the perfect balance between the two? Is freedom an illusion?

To create Franchise Freedom, Studio Drift studied the natural flight patterns of starlings and translated them into software that has been specially developed and embedded in the drones. This research started in 2007 with the launch of our work Flylight, whereby non pre-programmed flight patterns are generated by an algorithm that reacts in ways similar to starling murmuration. Together with their unique movements, light plays an equally important role in Franchise Freedom. Each drone has a light source, and its intensity and color is influenced by the distance between it and other drones, emphasizing the density of the group.

The parameters in the algorithm used in Franchise Freedom are choreographed by the artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta in order to channel the emotional impact of the performance, but they can never exactly predict or determine how the drones will behave. Their technology is based on ongoing university research on ocking behavior, as the principles of self-organization have become more and more relevant in our ever changing world.

BMW has a 50 year global track record of recognizing and enabling talent in the arts. The company helped make our visions come true and honours the full creative freedom of any artist or institution they collaborate with. When we sought a dialogue with BMW in regard to our ambitious project, the company, as long-term partner of Art Basel, excepted the challenge. For the period of over half a year, discussions ensued between us and BMW. - just as they did with artists like Jeff Koons, Olafur Eliasson, and Cao Fei beforehand. BMW is at the forefront of technological innovation, which is why “Franchise Freedom holds such a strong appeal to them. Making the impossible possible is what both BMW and artists, such as Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, strive for. Says Hildegard Wortmann Senior Vice President Brand BMW.

FRANCHISE FREEDOM is a collaboration between Lucas Oostrum and Studio Drift. 

Read more: In Miami, It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s ... a Flock of Drones?, | Studio Drift are advancing AI technology in the arts by simulating nature, | Studio Drift: dream big and think of the improbable, | A Swarm of Drones Is Performing a High-Tech Version of the Flight of the Starlings at Art Basel,