Why are Drone Light Shows Replacing Fireworks?

Is the era of fireworks nearing its end?

Although these celebratory explosions captivate people around the world, with recent advancements in drone technology, it’s a legitimate question.

Since the second century B.C. in Liuyang, China, people across the globe have enjoyed aerial pyrotechnics.

These bursts of light and sound help mark some of our most important events.

Whether it’s Guy Fawkes Day in the United Kingdom, the 4th of July in the United States, or New Year’s Eve celebrations worldwide, these colorful, vibrant displays capture the attention of audiences everywhere.

While fireworks have held a monopoly on celebrations for over two thousand years, there’s a new phenomenon sweeping the world’s biggest events: drone light shows.

Since the first drone show took place in Linz, Austria, back in 2012, performances have grown larger, more elaborate, and more captivating with every passing year. 

So, what exactly is a drone light show? How is it accomplished?

Are drones going to fully take the place of fireworks?

Let’s dive into these questions, and explore why drone shows are quickly replacing fireworks as the go-to crowd-pleaser everywhere. 

What Exactly, are Drone Light Shows?

Call it what you will: drone art, drone light shows, or UAV performances – just call it a marvel of modern technology.

Basically, the idea is to fly hundreds, or even thousands, of drones, simultaneously, in a pre-determined pattern of flight. Each drone carries a color-changing light, and operating as a single unit, create stunning visual displays for people on the ground to enjoy.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, in theory, yes. But, the aerial choreography needed to create these shows is no small task.

To create the desired images (not to mention avoiding crashing into each other), drones need to operate like a swarm of bees. Each drone must be able to communicate precise information to the rest of the ‘swarm’, in real-time, and without fail.

This task is accomplished by preprogramming each drone’s flight path and light actions (on/off, color changes, etc.) using complex algorithms and dependable hardware.

Though it’s not easy, plenty of companies around the world specialize in these events.

Some, such as Celestial in the United Kingdom, produce many shows around the world, every year.

Founded in 2020, the company has already provided drone light shows for New Year’s Eve celebrations in London and Melbourne, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and more.

And, with a recent expansion into Australia, more spectacular shows are in store for audiences worldwide. 

But, these shows aren’t growing in popularity for their beauty alone. Traditional fireworks pose a  variety of problems, even beyond the inherent dangers of explosives.

Fireworks: the Pollution Problem

Just like yourself, I have fond memories of fireworks displays – especially as a child.

Surrounded by good food, family, and warm summer nights, fireworks were the perfect end to every 4th of July celebration.

But, as exciting as those displays of booming explosions and flashing lights were, I never realized the adverse effects fireworks had on the environment.

Sure, you can see the mess left on the ground – burnt cardboard, pieces of plastic, and bits of ashes. But, there’s more problems here than meets the eye.

Unfortunately, fireworks are full of toxic chemicals and heavy metals, including barium, aluminum, cadmium, lead, lithium, mercury salts, antimony, copper, and strontium. These cancer-causing elements are dangerous to both humans and animals.

Though you see the smoke cling high in the night air during the bursts, it eventually finds its way back to the ground.

These toxic leftovers drift downwind, coming to rest on your neighbors’ farms and gardens.

They fall onto city streets, where next week’s rainfall sweeps them into the waterways.

And, they come to rest on the grasses & plants that both wild and domestic animals end up consuming.

In short, fireworks leave us smiling for a few brief minutes, yet leave an unseen impact for months to come.

Drone Shows are Less Intrusive

In addition to the toxic aspects of fireworks, loud noises disturb both animals and people.

If you’re a dog owner, you probably know the panic in these ‘BOOM’s induce in your furry friend all too well. Even if you don’t have a pet, you’ve probably noticed the barking and howling these shows create amongst your neighborhood.

But, animals aren’t the only ones sensitive to the disruptions of the bang.

As awareness of mental health challenges continues to grow, it’s important to recognize that not everyone’s past is the same.

As a veteran with many tours of wars, I personally tend to avoid fireworks displays since returning from combat.

Sure, the explosion of a firework makes a much different sound than, say, a grenade or TNT. But for me, it’s not so much that it reminds me of the sound of war, as it is just complete lack of interest around being near things ‘popping off’.

And, along my life’s journey, I’ve met many veterans who feel the same way.

Drone light shows, on the other hand, are far less intrusive to those outside the event.

Aside from the quiet hum of the rotors, there’s little in the way of disturbing anyone outside the show. While it’s true some people enjoy the bangs and crackles of fireworks, drone shows can achieve amazing sensory heights when accompanied by bold musical numbers & sound effects from accompanying sound systems.

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Drone Shows are Safer

By their very nature, fireworks are dangerous, explosive devices.

In 2020, fireworks caused 18 deaths and more than 15,000 injuries in the US alone. Though most were the result of backyard shenanigans, even professionally displayed pyrotechnics come with dangers.

Take for instance, the increasingly devastating effects of wildfires.

As climate change and droughts worsen, the thought of cascading burning cinders onto parched land is a troublesome one.

Is it any wonder then, that cities & events around the world are already making the shift to drone shows?

And, while firework shows are typically constrained to outdoor events, drone shows have the benefit of being safe for indoor use.

So, while your next convention or indoor concert might not be able to put on a full fireworks show, it can still ‘Wow!’ your audience with an incredible light display.

Drone Light Shows Offer More Customization

Ok, so drone light shows are safer, and less disruptive. But, can they really make an impact on your audience?

Well, all it takes is a quick search on YouTube to see for yourself. And, the results are incredible.

Not only can a drone show provide a continuous, mesmerizing dance of color & light, it’s also customizable, creating an endless number of dazzling effects.

While fireworks can make simple shapes like hearts or stars, they pale in comparison the choreography of drones.

Working in perfect unison, drones can create three-dimensional objects like running animals, spinning globes, or detailed portraits.

Some major companies even use them to create unbelievable press announcements, hovering their emblem across the night sky. And, in at least one clever branding tactic, one company managed to “Rick Roll” an entire city with a QR code placed high in the sky. 

Drone light shows offer you unmatched creative freedom, able to create nearly anything you can imagine across an aerial canvas.

Final Thoughts

While it may take many years to phase out fireworks, it does look like drones are slowly starting to take their place.

There’s no risk of starting an inadvertent fire, no toxic chemicals released into the air or ground, and they don’t disturb anyone outside of the show’s audience.

And, with the precision and stunning images these shows provide, they’re every bit as mesmerizing as any fireworks show.

Though fireworks will always hold a special place in certain events around the world, this drone art is well-positioned to become the firework of the future.

So, which drone is right for you? And, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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