How do UAV engineers train their drones to create mesmerizing light shows?

Drone technology never fails to amaze us with its continuous development and increasing applications. Its time we forget about the fireworks shows and envision drones as the future of aerial entertainment. 
Intel broke the Guinness world record for flying 2000+ drones simultaneously. They designed a drone show that lasted 5 minutes celebrating their 50th anniversary. The audience was left in amazement witnessing this hypnotic amalgamation of design and technology.

The swarm of drones can carry lights, smoke generators, fireworks or other payloads to create mesmerizing shows and there are endless possibilities.

How is it done?

First, the show is choreographed in any 3D animation software like Blender. There are certain challenges when we do this as the drone shows are meant to be seen in any direction, unlike film animation. Also, we need to consider factors such as drone speeds and distance between each drone to avoid the risk of collisions. 

After the animation is created the choreography is transformed to drone flight paths using drone show software like UgCS Drone Dance Controller (DDC). In the software, we can run virtual tests in a virtual environment that simulates real-life conditions. Here we can check the drone positions, formations, take-off, landing, and the lights.

Next step is the logistics, here we have to define the location and time of the show. The place must be large enough to accommodate the take-off and landing of all the drones. Other important preparations include the setting up of real-time kinematic GPS base stations and Wifi router to connect all the drones to the main computer.

After this, the drones are placed on the field distancing them about 2.5 – 3m. So, if we need to position 100 drones, we need an area of about 728 square meters. Along with this we also need a safety fence around the field.  After positioning of drones, the software assigns the flight paths from the animation to each drone. The paths are then uploaded to drones and preflight checks are performed.

Finally, the showtimes are set. While the show is done, a drone operator watches the software and takes care of all the drone parameters and flight paths in real-time on a 3D map.

The software takes care of the drones, in case of any unexpected situation like a strong wind gust. There are 4 layers of safety for the spectators:

  1. Geofence: prevents drones from going beyond a certain perimeter. Flying zones are limited using a cylinder or polygon fence.
  2. Control interface: allows the operator to land drones anytime.
  3. Independent red button app: it uses a separate computer and radio which stops the show and lands all the drones.
  4. Human pilot: a human pilot using a remote control can take control over any individual drone and land it.

Each drone is operated independently, it communicates with a central computer rather than any other drone around it. The central computer decides the roles of the drones based on battery levels and GPS strength of each drone.

Drone shows are created by swarms of drones equipped with lights, fireworks or smoke generators. The show choreography is first done in a 3D animation software and then transformed to drone flight paths in a drone show software which allows virtual tests in a virtual environment simulation real-life drone behavior. Then the logistics part is done along with important preparations like setting up a real-time kinematic GPS base station and Wifi router. After positioning the drones flight paths are uploaded and during the show, a human operator watches all the drone parameters on the software. Spectator safety is taken care of using 4 layers of safety.

It’s a spell-bounding sight to see a swarm of drones dancing in formations synchronized with music displaying messages and 3D shapes. It will be exhilarating to see what other marvels this technology brings before us with time.