Introduction: 3D Printed Drone Strike Data Installation

A collaborative project being developed by media artists Joseph DeLappe and Pete Froslie, to create a large-scale installation to map, via sculptural and electronic components, the history of ongoing US drone strikes in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The work shown here includes 25 3d printed paper reproductions of MQ9 Predator Drones, arranged in a pattern of documented drone strikes around the town of Mir Ali. This is a prototype for a much larger installation that, when completed, will feature over 415 paper drones – one each representing every documented drone strike in Pakistan. The drones will be arranged to create a map of drone strikes – each drone is individually lit by an addressable LED light which will go off in a staccato pattern – in the final installation the staccato pattern will be interrupted over time by individual drones strikes being highlighted in red and the incorporation of an LED panel on the wall of the installation space that will note the location, date and number of people killed. This prototype installation was installed in the paint booth of the Pier 9 Workshop at Autodesk Inc. as part of the Artist in Residence exhibition, January, 2015.

See a video of the completed prototype installation here:

This instructable will take you through our processes to date towards developing this installation project. A larger version of this piece, featuring up to 150 drones, is scheduled to be shown at the Fairbanks Gallery at Oregon State University in the fall of 2016.

Over the past decade+ of the “war on terror”, United States military and intelligence services have enthusiastically embraced the use of armed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as weapons of choice against Al Qaeda in conflict zones which include: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan alone, between 2004 and 2015, 410 CIA operated drones have killed an estimated 3,926 people; of these, it is estimated that approximately 960 civilians have been killed, including 207 children. Our goal with this project, is to create a physical visualization of drone strikes in North Waziristan - the work is as well a kind of symbolic memorial to those innocents killed by our drone attacks. Saying "there have been 410 drone strikes" in Pakistan is one thing, actually seeing such visualized in a physical space will make an impression that goes beyond such statistics. The shear number of drones arranged in the space, the chaotic, swarming shadows made overhead by the flashing LED lights, combined with the LED readout noting drone strike locations, dates, numbers killed will will hopefully have a visceral impact upon viewers of this work. We, as artists and citizens, are creating a work that calls into question the efficacy and morality of the use of drones to attack populations overseas.

One family's experience of drone strikes:

Step 1: Materials, Processes, Ideas...

This project began through a series of discussions between myself and my friend and colleague Pete Froslie. The original idea was to create a "Drone Chandellier", imagining a huge hanging sculptural work with individual 3D printed drones each lit from within by an addressable LED lamp. Pete travelled to San Francisco in the Fall of 2014 to work with me on this idea while I was on residency at 9 Workshop. Basically I worked primarily on the sculptural elements, he worked on the electronics.

Through a bit of trial and error we discovered that it would have been very difficult to actually make 3D printed drones at the scale we desired (roughly 7-8" wingspan) that could effectively be hollowed out to house LED lighting. We moved instead, towards a plan to light each drone from below - the shadows these create on the ceiling of a gallery space being rather amazing in our experiments with our first 3D printed drones and LED light system. Once we decided on our game plan, these are the materials we used:

-3D model of a drone - you can either make one or find any number of 3D models of predator or reaper drones online. The model was adapted for for the installation by creating a 1/8" cylindrical mounting hole in the bottom of the fuselage.

-3D printer - our first round of printing used an Objet Photopolymer 3D printer, this proved to be prohibitively costly. In looking for alternatives we decided to utilize the Mcor 3D printing process which used standard 8.5X11" paper as the source material. We like this for several reasons, one, the cost, which is a fraction of other 3D printing processes, second, the notion of a "paper drone" as in a "paper tiger" is of interest to us as well as that we can use the extra material removed from the paper printed process as the ground cover for the larger installation (see the photos, those blocks of paper are amazingly effective as rubble/ground, hiding our plywood stands as well).

-Electronics - Pete worked with a standard Arduino controller and a custom made splitter system to allow each light to be individually addressable. I am not the electronics expert here, if you have questions for him, feel free to contact him through his website:

-4x4" squares of 3/4" scrap plywood (we will eventually use 415 of these for the proposed installation)

-1/8" steel rod (we used readily available welding rods from the Pier 9 Workshop for the first installation of 25)

-zip ties - these were used to fasten the individual LED lights and wiring to each steel rod/stand.

-Map of drone strikes in Pakistan. We looked at various maps online that record our ongoing drone warfare in Pakistan. The most accurate and up to date is from the project "Metadata" by Josh Begley this app is free to download and use.

Step 2: 3D Print the Drones...

As with everything 3D printing, this process is more complicated than it looks. As the drone has very small and delicate parts, I discovered through trial and error that it was best to separate the lower tail fin and the hellfire missiles from the drone for printing. These were printed with the drone on the Mcor to be glued on to the drone in the clean-up process after removing the block of cut paper from the printer. You can see in some of the images above the process of removing the spare paper (saving all of this for our ground cover). Each drone is carefully printed and set aside and so on. I cut out the small dorsal fin you see on the top of the drone from spare bits of paper, these were just too delicate to come through the 3D printing process on the Mcor.

Step 3: Prototype Installation Completion...

We prepared this prototype installation for the Artist in Residence Show or "AIR Show" at the Pier 9 Instructables Workshop for January of 2015. As the Pier 9 Workshop was not designed to exhibit works, we all worked to utilize existing shop spaces for the exhibition. For the drone installation, we took over the paint booth - a 10x10' enclosed space - it was one of the only available spaces where we could control the light - very important to have a completely dark installation environment for this piece to work properly.

We 3D printed and assembled 25 of the paper drones as printed on the Mcor. Pete sent out the electronics from Oklahoma where he is a professor at OSU. These are the steps to complete the install:

1) I laid out the 25 4x4" plywood bases, each had a 1/8" hole drilled through the center, mounting the 1/8" steel welding rods in each hole. These were then placed in the space.

2) I printed out an image from the Metadata project of 25 drone strikes around the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan. This was used as a visual guide to place each drone stand.

3) Attach each drone to a stand.

4) Attach the LED lights and wiring to each stand.

5) Extend each wire strand to the splitter, plug in.

6) Spread out the paper refuse from the 3D printing process, arranging these to cover each plywood base.

7) Plug in the electronics and pray that the preprogrammed sequence actually works! (It didn't on first go and I had to spend an hour or so on the phone with Pete reprogramming the Arduino, such fun!).

8) I don't have pictures of this, but in order to insure a light fast environment we used black material attached to the ceilings at the doorway using magnets (the paint booth is entirely metal).

Step 4: Prototype Installation Complete!

We were quite pleased with the results - this installation was a "proof of concept" of sorts.

Be sure and watch the video linked here to get a sense of how the installation functions.

Our goal is to create a cascading swarm of drone shadows on the ceiling of the installation space. This installation features 25 drones, imaging this but with 415 of these taking up a much larger space and you get the idea...

Thanks for looking! Feel free to send me any questions.

We are presently raising funds through grant writing to support the eventually creation of the larger work.