How Drones Became the Ultimate Entertainment

Drone technology is evolving as a new and modern innovation. While they might seem like simple gadgets or toys, a high-quality drone is a serious investment.

Drones are lifesavers. They are transporting medical samples between hospitals and medical centers, helping keep South Florida’s mosquito population under control, giving firefighters a top-down view of hot areas, and etc.

When these helpful devices aren’t helping people stay out of trouble, they are putting on theater shows, light shows, and much more.

Did you know that drones performed with Drake during an appearance in Chicago? Yes, and they also swirl above the guests at last year’s Burning Man (one of the most popular music events. More than 200 drones danced last year to music and fireworks on Al Marjan Island. Pretty impressive, right?

It is no wonder why PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the market for drones and drone-powered events and special effects at around $9 billion.

The real question is how did drones get so popular overnight?


Different Types of Drones

Two European businesses are credited for drone-based light shows that today regularly make appearances at Super Bowl halftime. These companies are Ascending Technologies and Ars Electronica.

Ars Electronica is an Austria-based scientific institute which houses the Museum of the Future and organizes annual arts festivals. However, Ars Electronica also manages a multidisciplinary facility known as Futurelab. Futurelab is where the seeds of the whole concept take place.

Seven years ago or in 2012, Futurelab published a paper “Spaxels, Pixels in Space – A Novel Mode of Spatial Display” explaining algorithms for coordinating swarms of LED-powered quadcopters.

Spaxels is a portmanteau of two words “space” and “pixels” that would eventually fly together in patterns and recreate objects and images. They demonstrated their project at the annual Ars Electronica festival back in 2014 when 50 spaxels flew in a cylindrical pattern above the Danube in locations from Sweden to Austria.

Around that time, Ascending Technologies which is a Germany-based company came up with a technique called “light painting” that serves to spice up the sky. The company’s algorithms which are used in their own drones and licensed to third-party manufacturers prevented a group of quadcopters from colliding when they come close to each other.

Intel Capital invested in Ascending Technologies prior to acquiring it and Intel partnered with the company to integrate its image and depth-recognition technology (known as RealSense) with the algorithms discussed above.

The chipmaker gathered the fruit of the effort invested during in 2015 during a keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show and later with a 100-drone and 7-minute light show outside of Hamburg over Ahrenlohe Airfield. Set to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the show earned Intel the “Guinness World Record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously”.

During the 2016 Vivid Sydney, Intel put on a post-purchase performance, where the airborne fleet was accompanied by the Sydney Youth Orchestra. The quadcopters were limited by weight and complexity. They had to be mapped manually and charged before flights.


Welcome Shooting Stars

Intel’s next generation presented ShootingStart.

Today, there are two types: Shooting Star Mini and full-sized Shooting Star.

Shooting Star Mini drones have a simple design and are made from foam and plastic. The drones weight 0.73 pounds and the LEDs which can produce over 4 billion color combinations. Onboard algorithms handle the optimize the flight plan and handle the choreography. They also locate the drones without the need for GPS.

Both drones can fly in rain (light rain) thanks splash-proof exteriors and can maintain high stability in wind speeds. Before flights, a control system checks each drone and chooses the best-optimized units based on GPS reception strength, battery level, and other factors.

When it comes to creating the flight patterns of the drone, show designers have a lot of options.

Verity Studios

Intel is not the only company with drones built to entertain.

Verity Studios is a Zurich-based robotics company which raised $18 million last June in series A funding and includes Drake, Metallica, Royal Caribbean, and Cirque du Soleil among its customers.

Verity’s custom made Lucie drone has a factor comparable to Shooting Star. Lucie weights 50 grams and can fly for up to three minutes/per hour and packs a RGBT light. Localization units form the boundaries of the flight space, helping the drone to perform without carpets of cameras.

The modified Lucie models can carry cameras, lampshades, mirrors, and other stage effects. Because they operate overhead they have a built-in system that can coordinate a landing event if a motor, battery, propeller or connector fails.

For those clients who have bigger and more specific requests, Verity has a team of drone costume designers to create outfits like disco balls, jellyfish, flowers, and more. These are flight-tested and ultra-light, created to be used with a flying light show or alone.

Shows All Over the World


Drone shows have grown in popularity, especially in the last two years.

In 2017, Intel’s Shooting Star featured in Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show when 300 shooting stars formed an American flag. Later that year, during Art Basel Miami Beach, Intel worked together with Studio Drift and BMW to create a drone motion art installation.

Intel teamed up with Universal Studios to choreograph drones with Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle which is a light projection show and it animated a huge Christmas tree at annual Starbright Holidays event.

Intel’s drones were used at Coachella music festival for the second year in a row and over 2000 drones flew over Folsom to celebrate Intel’s 50th anniversary.

The drones also made appearances at Singapore’s 52nd birthday.

The ultimate drone-based entertainment may one day spread to event organizers, startup staffers, and hobbyist.