Feeding and Talking to Helium-Filled Blimps: The ALAVs at the Beall Center

This year, the Beall Center for Art and Technology’s featured artist is Jed Berk, creator of a new species called ‘Autonomous Light-Air Vessels.’
ALAVs, (pronounced ‘Ah-Laahvs’) are battery powered helium-filled blimps with electronic chips where a basket would normally be. The ALAVs float a few feet above the ground as they wander around the exhibit, interacting with each other, humans and objects. They flock, hide, eat and dance depending on how others respond to them and flash blue or red LED lights to indicate their ‘state of mind.’
On Thursday, April 5, the Center held an opening reception for Berk and his ALAVs as part of its ‘Emerging Artists Series.’
Berk, who considers himself more of an artist than a scientist, has received a considerable amount of press and recognition for his innovative work, and the ALAVs have been featured on programs such as Discovery Channel’s ‘Beyond Tomorrow.’ His work centers on the concept of ‘network-based ecosystems’ and has been described as an ‘intersection of art, science and emerging technologies.’
Each of the seven ALAVs is unique, with its own name and personality. The ALAVs’ ‘brains,’ powered by Sun Microsystems’ SunSpot System technology, can understand things like temperature and movement. Radio waves and Wi-Fi enable the ALAVs to monitor the distance between objects and themselves, which allows them to navigate their way around.
The exhibit is filled with buzzing, and not just from the amused spectators