“Wonderful”, “Scintillating”, “Magnificent”, “Ethereal”, “Astonishing”. These are some of the key comments that were received in response to a splendid viral social media video of a drone light show that was shared by Verge Aero as it endeavored to offer its gratitude to healthcare professionals in Philadelphia. The response to the viral video was unimaginable and these comments are a testimony of the fact that drone light shows when orchestrated properly, are a sight to behold. There have been several queries ever since and we would love to share our take on this incredible technology with our loyal readers.
Drone light show
Carried out by a well-rehearsed, enlightened and dexterous ensemble of drones, drone light shows are events wherein these groups of drones get themselves arranged into different formations in the air. A computer program is used to create a certain image in the sky which transforms graphics into flight directions and conveys them to the drones.
In the modern day and age, drone light shows, which once were a spectacle for university laboratories only, have now become the main event that is organized at a huge scale across the globe. Originally, the 2012 TED video in which University of Pennsylvania’s Dean of Engineering, Vijay Kumar, portrayed the marvelous aerial stunts being performed by a swarm of drones, inspired us all. The mantle was passed to Spaxels Research Initiative, Collmot, and Verity who conducted wonderful research in this realm. However, it is Intel which pushed the drone shows and gained much-needed traction amongst the audience thanks to its spectacular performances at the Super Bowl halftime show and the Winter Olympics.
Functioning of drone light shows
Just to make it clear: Skynet does not power drone shows! You must remember the artificial intelligence network that was the centerpiece of the script in the Hollywood blockbuster The Terminator. So, it certainly is not Skynet! The drones that appear in drone shows are not aware of their surroundings, they do not possess the ability to think and do not make any decisions in real-time. As a matter of fact, similar to subservient and loyal followers, they act on the directions that are communicated to them!
The procedure involved in holding a drone show is quite simple. A storyboard timeline depicting the intended images and visual effects is forged by the design team first up. These images are effects are subsequently animated in a specially designed software that converts them into coordinated flight trajectories for each device. A soundtrack is recorded which is played in the background while the drones dance to their tunes in an astounding act of choreography. A pilot operates the ground control station and sends relevant commands to the drones via radio signals. As soon as the pilot is of the view that everything has been set up and is good to go, the show commences and the fleet of drones is unleashed into the horizon to perform the spectacular Drone Light Show!
Plenty of dexterous engineering is involved in formulating a system that can be maneuvered safely with as much repetition as required. The drones created by Verge Aero have been designed specifically to perform in drone light shows. Our customized devices are void of certain features typically found in conventional drones such as cameras and incorporate features like shimmering LED light sources.
With the help of Verge Aero design software, users can choose from a wide array of graphics and visual effects and place them in a video timeline, in the same manner, a video editor works in a video editing software. The software ascertains the flight routes of all the drones to avoid any collision during the routine and produces a complete 3D rendering of the show to ensure that the results match exactly as desired. A specially designated program is communicated to each drone while the ground control station oversees each drone over a localized encrypted network to ensure utmost security.
A detailed dashboard display is employed by the flight crew on the ground control station to get the drones ready for the flight and persistently keep an eye on their maneuvers. The drones are loaded with multiple radios that function at the same time, outside the realm of common WiFI frequencies, to ensure that the communication remains uninterrupted even amidst noisy radio environments.
The drone shows are operated by seasoned and trained pilots with tons of aviation-related experience behind their backs along with knowledge about rules and regulations and weather conditions. Before each show is kicked off, checklists are utilized to ensure that all the procedure is accomplished meticulously: drones are in working condition, batteries are charged, and the flight stage is ready! Once all the preparations have been dispensed with and the pilot is satisfied that everything has been done the right way, drones are sent flying into the air.
Are drones the replacement for conventional fireworks?
Fireworks have environmental repercussions associated with them such as noise, pollution, and lots of mess/debris! Environment groups commonly raise their voice on the impact of fireworks on wildlife along with their effect on military veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PSTDs). There are certain locations wherein fireworks have been prohibited due to the enhanced risk of wildfires.
In addition to the aforecited factors, numerous other reasons have propelled people into looking out for substitutes for fireworks and drone light shows can certainly fulfill the purpose.
On several occasions, drone shows have risen as a great alternative to fireworks. Moreover, as a technologically advanced alternative to fireworks, drones have plenty to offer. They can portray a broader range of effects in contrast to fireworks and their ability for shrewd maneuvers imbues them with the far-reaching potential for storytelling in the sky. Drones can also be deployed in even such scenarios where fireworks could not be used.
When one comes to think of it, drones fireworks have certain limitations inherent to them. Typically, only a few patterns or effects are repeated in different blends, sizes, colors, and levels of brightness. Why opt for this limited potential when you can access dynamic, adjustable 3D pixels that can produce an unimaginable array of imagery? Drones offer a far more palatable canvas for being creative to drone aficionados. One can anticipate that in the days to come as drone light shows take over the mantle from the fireworks displays, people are going to look back at fireworks and remember the good old days with limited capability offered by them.
Having said that, the road from fireworks to drones is gradual and will not happen in the blink of an eye. As of now, fireworks are a reality that is not leaving us thanks to them being extremely cost-effective contrary to drone light shows. However, as and when drone shows become cheaper, we are going to see a lot more of them in the times to come.
Why is drone light shows not so common?
Drones can even be purchased from Walmart now, so this begs the question as to why drone light shows are not so common. This is primarily due to the gradually developing technologies that are employed to ensure the seamless execution of drone shows. It takes time for the innovation to spread around and drone shows are not excluded as well. Several factors lead to the restricted consumption of drones:
- Rules and regulations
- Restricted insurance options
- Operations require a certain degree of skill
- Unavailability of reliable show design tools
- Safety requirements
Of course, specially designed drones fitted with highly accurate avionics fuel high cost. The requirement for dedicated skills such as even toying with the most basic of control software or getting unreliable drones for flight also comes up as a contributing factor to the reduced uptake of drones.
When it comes to mainstream events such as the Super Bowl halftime show or the Winter Olympics, high costs may be acceptable. However, such high costs emerge as impediments to their proliferation. Nevertheless, times are changing and Verge Aero’s imaginative drones are on their way to render drone light shows more affordable for a broader array of the target audience.
Cost of drone light shows
Similar to other newer technologies, drone light shows were exceptionally costly in the beginning. To be honest, they still are not as cost-effective as one would desire them to be. However, as was the case with computers and televisions, prices are witnessing a downward spiral. Drone light shows will get mainstreamed with advancements in technology. The tools forged by Verge Aero provide the opportunity to achieve way more for a lesser amount of investment.
The primary cost of the drone shows is the actual cost of the entire fleet. It costs to sustain a drone fleet of 500 than that of 50. Moreover, labor, freight, and logistics also add up to the costs.
It costs around $20,000 to set up a drone show on a smaller scale. On the contrary, drone shows on a larger scale can cost several times more. Here are certain factors that make drone shows more expensive:
- Number of drones in the fleet
- The complexity of the design of the drone show
- Choreography and preparation time
- Sanctioning of the airspace and compliance with the regulations
- Shipping and logistics
- Travel and accommodation of the crew involved
What makes Verge Aero different?
To reduce the costs involved in drone shows, Verge Aero has come up with certain ideas to mitigate the complexities inherent in the process and curtail the quantum of work needed.
Show design simplified
In the past, drone light shows were formulated manually by employing a series of software such including animation software like Blender – which was a rather tiresome and complicated process. What made the process even more complex was that the programmer had to ensure that vertices in Blender do not intersect during animation as that would lead to the collision of drones in the air. The output would then have to be shifted into another separate application to get the drones ready for flight. This is a rather insecure procedure as it banks on human intervention which may cause errors.
A better approach would be to employ a singular application with a user-friendly interface such as the Verge Aero Design Studio which automatically deals with the anti-collision calculus. Trajectories are set up in the inbuilt animation software and comfortably adjusted. Once the design process has been dispensed with, the software eliminates the probability of human error by ensuring that flight routes do not overlap, pointing out possible issues or errors in the show design, and simulating the performance by a rendering process. All this is done without human involvement.
This application enables designers to produce content with minimum effort instead of relying on the tedious procedures of employing animation tools or writing code. Visual effects similar to complex flocking, as evident in this All of Us music video by PNAU are automatically generated by the producer of an effect in the Verge Aero Design Studio. The visual effects and graphics created by one designer can easily be shared with others. This ease in development lets a developer concentrate on making the shows look awesome rather than being overburdened by the ever-increasing complexity.
Show operations simplified
In the days of the yore, it took a lot of time and effort to set up a show as each drone had to be incorporated with its flight trajectory and positioned appropriately in the fleet. This process was tedious and vulnerable to human error. The flow of operations is streamlined when:
- An entire copy of the show is loaded into each drone so that it is placed appropriately in the starting lineup
- Drones point out when they are in a proper position while being placed in the swarm
- The preparedness and placement of all the drones are automatically reviewed and verified by the ground control station
- The replacement of a drone not ready for flight is easy and swift
Improvements in this seemingly simple operational workflow give rise to a flawless experience and exterminate all the complexities involved. The pilots can concentrate on aspects that are crucial to the successful accomplishment of the mission such as the flight readiness of a drone and its security in the air.
It is imperative that all drones are in harmony with the Verge Aero global database to ensure that their maintenance routines remain coordinated and their software updates are carried out at designated schedules. Maintenance includes the replacement of batteries and motors and remains simplified while the software update is conducted over the air. This enables the pilot to manage all the drones of the swarm with lease trouble.
All these features ensure that the time and human intervention needed to get the drones ready for performance are drastically reduced. For instance, only a couple of Verge Aero professionals are required to set up 100 drones for the show and this is accomplished in no more than 45 minutes. The costs are kept in check in this manner, thereby expediting the consumption of technology and enabling more people to access drone light shows.
Number of drones needed for a show
The count of drones needed for a show is not as many as you may be thinking!
The press has been focusing lately on the number of drones participating in the Guinness world record efforts. At present, Intel holds the world record with around 2,066 drones involved in a light show. This is a remarkable achievement that portrayed incredibly outcomes. However, the quality of the graphics and visual effects created does not necessarily depend on the number of drones in the fleet.
One of the main reasons that led to a larger number of drones involved in light shows of the early days was that the drones at that time were not equipped with bright lights and were not able to hold their position precisely. Hence, compelling content was created to enable drones to fill a volume of space to enlighten it, and this needed a larger number of drones. So, rather than creating a straight line with individual drones, a rectangle had to be formed and filled with drones. Here is a Time Magazine cover that was flown by Intel of this fact!
On the contrary, the drones designed by Verge Aero are brighter and can retain their position accurately by consolidating GPS data with additional positional coordinates communicated from the ground control station. Hence, the pilots are free to exercise a greater degree of freedom when it comes to being creative and gets to achieve better results with a minimum number of drones. We are now able to draw lines in 3D with drones.
The number of drones depends on what is being tried to be achieved. Complicated graphics will always need more drones to precisely represent them in the air. The more complicated a design is, the more drones will be needed to recreate it. Similarly, the number of the audience along with their viewing distance has an impact on the number of drones required to come up with the expected results.
Having said that, it does not take a massive number of drones to carve out an amazing show. For a small event, even 50 drones can come in handy; incredible feats have been achieved with swarms this small. It all boils down to the tools and the way they are employed.
Are drone light shows safe?
Drone light shows are immensely safe if they are orchestrated by a seasoned crew as has been depicted by Intel with their impeccable safety track record over the past four years. However, not all are as skillful. At Verge Aero, we give utmost significance to safety in all operations. Here are some of the critical safety measures that we undertake:
A safe distance between the drones and the audience is of paramount importance. Several barriers called geofences are built into the shows to ensure that drones remain within the confines of the safe-flight zones.
Quality of drones
Thanks to the completely integrated hardware that has been fine-tuned to ensure top-notch performance, we promise safe flights during the drone shows. All the components inside drones are highly optimized and developed with utmost precision. We believe that tailoring third-party drones for light shows is just not enough to bring about the desired results.
With the help of several radios functioning in various frequency bands, communications are kept as reliable and disruption-free as possible. Likewise, the autopilot software functions entirely on a separate processor to the mission control software, thereby enabling the drone to return home safely in the event of system failure.
Safety of flight route
The flight trajectories are kept from getting overlapped by our unified software and hence drones do not collide with each other. We also ensure that any glitches during the show handoff from one software to another are avoided at all costs.
We adhere to the FAA flight regulations. Moreover, drone shows are executed by trained and professional pilots. Furthermore, we stick to a formidable culture of safety for the seamless conduct of drone light shows.
In the early days of drone shows, the audience was treated to simple visual effects that changed from one to another similar to a marching band. Enhanced design tools and control technology enable Verge Aero to achieve greater feats than these simplistic routines. Drone shows are likely to become even more mesmerizing as designers are endeavoring to disrupt the innovation landscape thanks to their imaginative designs. The drones are expected to evolve as various lighting components capable of conjuring scintillating drone light shows.
We are still in the early days of a novel and exhilarating medium of live entertainment. Stay connected! You are going to have the time of your lives!