Even though our movies and tv shows keep getting higher and higher definition as we move forward in time, there is still a cling to hold on to low def for a lot of people. Not just for nostalgia or to be contrarian, but it just doesn't feel like we've gotten everything we could get out of low def yet.
That's not to say anything bad about high def of course. Please, by all means, make 4k TVs (just make them at 60Hz dammit). But there is still a huge amount of charm to things like 8bit sprites and animated GIFs (hard g).
Disney Research and ETH Zurich are trying to take low def into high tech with their new research project called the Display Swarm, which published a paper and several test videos earlier this month.
Called Pixelbots, the swarm features small robotic LED lights mounted on a magnetic wheelbase that can be controlled either by computer or by human movement to create rich, interactive animations.
These two videos are impressive despite the fact that they're clearly these aren't ready for prime time yet. They're still somewhat shaky and and the tests that EHM have done have been with under 100 Pixelbots so far. The researchers believe they can scale it up to 750 Pixelbots or more, which would really be something.
Imagining where this could go with real world applications is incredible though. Imagine the kind of light and sound show that Imagineers could put on with these robots in EPCOT? We've already seen what can be done in stadia with mounted LED pixel displays, most notably during the London Olympic opening ceremony. This could be way more interesting than animatronic presidents, or Body Wars or those damn ghosts that squeeze into your car in the Haunted Mansion.