Commercial drones are taking the world by storm ― industry niches are being 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 U.S. market value for entertainment alone is expected to exceed $655 billion in 2017.
Using drones for art comes in countless variations and on the contrary, 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.
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, like 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: Intel’s Drone 500, Skymagic’s show at Mt. Fuji (below), Collmot Robotics’ multi drone light show, and Verity studios show Paramour.
One thing to be advised, the safety standards for both, in- and outdoor operation are extremely high in order to guarantee the safety of the audience. Safety systems can be installed on the drone itself (like the helium balloon cover used by Aerotain or redundant flight-control systems) or externally as geo-fences or grids.
The regulation for swarm- and night-operation as well as flight over crowds is forbidden in the most countries. Additionally, high costs for programming and re-programming of the drones decelerate a wide adoption. This explains why drone shows are not (yet) mainstream events and only appear at exclusive events.
One of the most exciting and largest drone shows recently was Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show (though, the drones were prerecorded so only TV viewers saw the drone light 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 firework shows.
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.
Featured image: Drone Industry Insights/Intel/Cirque du Soleil/Richard Termine/Collmots Robotics
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