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The Future of Fireworks: Dancing Drones

The 2018 Opening Ceremony to the Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, for the first time, used drones as an alternate visual display to fireworks.

Intel put on the display with a record-breaking 1,218 drones, equipped with onboard LEDs and over 4 billion colour combinations, creating stunning visuals, including the iconic Olympic rings and an animated snowboarder. The quadcopters used weigh less than 280 grams and are made out of foam and flexible plastic, all flown and controlled simultaneously by a single computer following a pre-coded route.

Holidays such as the 5th of November, 4th of July, Chinese New Year, Bastille Day and New Year’s Eve all incorporate fireworks. However, environmental and safety concerns may see legislation surrounding the sale and use of fireworks change as governments attempt to meet their zero-emissions goals. In China last year fireworks were banned in 444 cities as part of a government initiative to reduce pollution. The bans were not well received, as not only does the ban deal a significant blow to the pyrotechnics industry, fireworks are recognised as part of a one-thousand year-old Chinese tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year and 15 days of Spring festival, believing to dispel bad spirits.

Environmental concerns are not the only motivation for increased restrictions or bans on fireworks. Every year over 4000 people are admitted to A&E in the UK with injuries caused by fireworks. While drone displays are clearly not a practical alternative to home firework displays, it seems likely we’ll continue to see more drone displays being used at public events. Perhaps eventually even replacing firework displays, particularly if further legislation is passed.

Intel’s Shooting Star drones, launched in 2015, are the dominating force in aerial drone displays, having performed upwards of 300 shows in 16 different countries. Most recently, Intel broke its own Guinness World Record, set in Pyeong Chang and the subsequent record of 1,374 drones by rival Xi’an City Wall, when the company flew 2,018 drones to celebrate Intel’s 50th anniversary. In collaboration with Disney, Intel created ‘Starbright Holidays’ which they feel has “unlocked a new medium of storytelling in the sky.”

It is this ‘new medium’ which could enable the future of fireworks to be a lot quieter, and arguably more visually creative. Drone displays could create a unique new industry combining animators, coders, pilots and drone technology to create choreographed shows with thousands of drones flown simultaneously, all controlled by a single computer.