Drone displays ready to take off worldwide

Light shows performed by drones in Shanghai celebrate the inaugural Chinese People’s Police Day on January 9, 2022. [Photo by Gao Erqiang / chinadaily.com.cn]

Drone displays are increasingly common at public celebrations, resembling programmable fireflies in the night sky, dazzling onlookers.

A computer program converts graphics into flight commands, producing complex visual images and animations that add a sense of awe to any outdoor event or party. The sheer versatility of displays means everything from animals to written messages can be scribbled across the night sky. Such performances are considered more environmentally friendly than fireworks and less disturbing to pets and local wildlife, but are becoming more common in China and around the world.

Recent advances in drone robotics have seen large public displays from the Tokyo Olympics to lavish corporate events showcasing the technology. The increasing affordability of commercial and private drones also means that such displays can be accessed at a local level as well. Derbyshire County Council in the UK has performed drone choreography for crowds of up to 1,000 people, making reusing the flying vehicles a worthy investment, compared to an annual fireworks budget.

Companies such as SkyMagic in the UK, who offer such display services, are finding that there is a lot of demand, while the pandemic has surprisingly sparked interest. Compared to fireworks, drone displays can hang in the air longer and fly over different areas, so gathered crowds at one vantage point are no longer necessary.

Hogmanay, Scotland’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration, saw drones take the form of a huge galloping deer, illuminating the night sky as the animal appeared to run across it, each pixel animating the image created from a separate drone powered by AI.

However, China holds the record for technological displays. Last year, Shenzhen Damoda Intelligent Control Technology presented a record-breaking display in Shanghai, featuring 3,281 drones performing intricate acrobatics to create complex images and messages to amaze onlookers.

The potential of this new industry is difficult to assess, given that just a few years ago the concept of flying drone swarms would have been unthinkable. In 2014, drones performing complex programmed aerial maneuvers were relegated to university research labs. As technology advances, the increasingly complex and dazzling displays are sure to please the public. However, there are safety concerns, with many people wondering if flying the machines in the dark over crowds poses any dangers, with already isolated incidents of falling machines around the world.

However, there have been no serious accidents to date and with the right precautions it can be difficult to argue that explosive fireworks and fireworks are a safer alternative.

However, fireworks are far from relegated to history. Cheaper and easily accessible, the loud atmospheric spectacles they create are still considered by many to be an integral part of any celebration.

With Chinese New Year approaching, excuses to celebrate across the country will abound, and a mix of traditional fireworks and drone displays will illuminate the night sky in spectacular fashion.

Barry He is a London-based columnist for China Daily.

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