The Beauty of Technology – Drone Shows

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Commercial drones are talking the world by storm – industry niches are uncovered and filled at an incredible pace. The beauty of today’s technology, however has more to it than just collecting vast amounts of data – in fact, it’s the beauty of drones moving through the air itself.

This new medium seems to annul gravity, allowing endless new possibilities to writers, directors and actors in stage entertainment. And entertainment is a big deal – the US market value for entertainment alone is expected to exceed $655B USD in 2017.

Using drones for art comes in countless variations and in contraire, this time technology seems to be the limiting factor – not creativity. Flying indoors or arranging hundreds of drones in an array is extremely challenging when it comes to navigation, precision and timing. Today some drone show operators can securely navigate indoors, create huge aerial displays using pre-programmed flight paths or control drones via swarm communication. The opportunities are endless – to get a better feeling about what can be done today we collected the leading drone show operators across the world:

Now, what kind of drone shows are there and what applications can be found today?

Drone shows must be separated in two categories: indoor and outdoor operation. This separation is not, as you may expect, caused by regulation, but in the way, they navigate. As a stable and precise GNSS connection is not available indoors, the operators must use other navigation systems, e.g. motion control systems or indoor positioning systems. This leads to a much higher effort in preparing the show as well for deinstallation and reinstallation, if you, in the case of the drone shows at the latest Muse tour, change location every week to another city.

For most in- and outdoor operations, human pilots are still required (CTRLme, Aerotain). This becomes quite challenging as soon as the number of drones increases to a very large amount. Hence, fully automated and individually pre-programmed drones are more reliable and secure when it comes to large displays. Great examples are drone shows like: Intels Drone 500, Skymagics show at Mt. Fuji, Collmot Robotics multi drone light show or Verity studios show Paramour.

One thing to be advised, the safety standards are for both, in- and outdoor operation extremely high to guarantee the safety of the audience. Safety systems can be installed on the drone itself (e.g. a helium balloon cover used by Aerotain or Oli Metcalfe or redundant flight-control systems) or externally as geo-fences or grids to ensure a safe performance.

But why have drone shows not reached the broad audience?

The regulation for swarm- and night-operation as well as flight over crowds is forbidden in the most countries. High costs for programming and re-programming of the drones additionally decelerate a wide adoption. This explains why drone shows are not (yet) mainstream events and only shine at very exclusive events.

Unlimited repeatable fireworks; noiseless and without polluting the environment is a great way of doing things. One of the most exciting and largest drone shows recently was Lady Gagas Super Bowl halftime show, presenting a colorful, swirling backdrop as she stood on the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium.

Operating drone shows efficiently will require a larger scale and higher rate of repetition. Disney World is already filing patents to include drones as part of their frequent fireworks.

Costs will drop as soon as swarm intelligence reaches a higher degree of maturity, saving endless hours of individual programming. Knowledge gained from this development will help the whole industry to use better indoor navigation systems and swarm intelligence at scale.