A Bird? A Plane? A Blob.

There may be an increase in UFO sightings in London next March. Rumi Verjee, a millionaire best known as a shareholder (with Sir Elton John) of the soccer team Watford F.C., is financing a 72-foot-diameter helium balloon to float over Brick Lane, the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community. Its surfaces will swim with news, digital art, entertainment, and inevitably, advertising, somewhat like the giant craft that hovered above the streets of futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner.

Tom Barker, head of the industrial design department at the Royal College of Art, conceived of the balloon and his firm B Consultants will handle its design and engineering. Barker also developed SmartSlab, the technology that will allow the balloon’s surface to broadcast such an array of imagery. Unlike the Jumbotron at your local stadium, whose pixels are arrayed in a giant grid of squares, SmartSlab’s pixels are arranged in a honeycomb, with fewer jagged edges. The pictures should look sharp even from 180 feet, the proposed height of the balloon, which will be tethered to the top of a building Verjee owns.

It’s hard to imagine this futuristic spacecraft fitting in almost anywhere other than Times Square. Should it be subject to regulation as a balloon, a building, a billboard, or all of the above? According to SmartSlab creative marketing executive Sally Haworth, the balloon is “subject to aviation approval as opposed to city zoning planning, and the aviation authorities accept the project.” When this strange new object begins hovering over London in less than a year, just like a real alien spacecraft it will no doubt cause awe, consternation, and controversy.

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