Producing A Drone Light Show: How Does it Work?

Welcome back to the Coptrz blog. This week, we are bringing you the behind the scenes on producing a drone light show. What goes into it? What drones are used? How does it work? Look no further than this blog!

A drone light show is performed by illuminated, synchronised and choreographed groups of drones that arrange themselves into various aerial formations. Almost any image can be created in the sky by using drones! It seems that the sky is no longer the limit.

A drone light show is different from your regular firework show, in that drones can be reused, they do not make noise or produce air pollution - which is a massive win. However, there are only a few dozen companies in the world that have the proper permits, training, technical skills and supplies to plan and carry out a large-scale drone light show. One of them being Swarmtech Drones, which is at the forefront of this technology.

We spoke to Justin Attwood, founder of Swarmtech drones to find out what goes into producing a drone light show.

Drone Light Show: Case Study - Swarmtech Drone LTD

Swarmtech is the UK's premier drone light show provider. Swarmtech is the first company in the country to design, build and carry out drone light shows.

What was your first introduction to drones?

"My introduction to drones was via my friend, some 7-8 years ago now. There were no simulators or videos to explain anything at the time, so it was a huge learning process, A lot of crashing and repairing occurred at this point! Once we were confident we started experimenting with electronics and drones.

"Later we joined KQRC when it was in its infancy, Kent Quadcopter Racing Club was the first dedicated FPV club in the U.K
As the FPV scene started growing, new members and competitions appeared. I was once lucky enough to partake in the DJI sponsored 'U.K Drone Masters' held at Farnborough in 2016 - whilst the international air show was happening!

"Swarmtech arose from a simple conversation with another friend one summer. We were discussing hobbies, and how we could combine them. Obviously I enjoyed 'droning', and my business partner, a BMS engineer by trade, had a passion for computer controls and specialty lighting - stage lighting, event lighting - I think the moment came as simple as "drone lights!" From there, Swarmtech was born."

What drones are you using to create the light shows?

"We use a variety of drones depending on the show requirements.

"The main drones in use are either our own Swarmtech built drones, using the highest quality components available, or our newer fleet of customised drones direct from the manufacturer.

"We also have a variety of other drones in our fleet, from larger ‘Heavy lifters’ to small and agile ‘FPV racers’ from brands such as DJI, Yuneec, Parrot, Lumenier, Armatten and Emax. These drones are able to carry heavier payloads too which makes a massive difference."

What kind of shows are you producing? Are they for specific events, such as weddings?

"We offer ‘standard’ shows for usual events such as birthdays, weddings, wedding proposals and festive celebrations. Bespoke shows are either tailored based on the clients request, or alternatively designed from scratch by our ‘Swarmation’ team. They create a show based on key points conveyed from the client, such as preferred colours, text and logos etc

"We have some extremely exciting upcoming projects, unfortunately I cannot share them with you just yet (Due to NDA’s in place) but watch this space as they say."

How many pilots have you got flying drones when you produce a drone light show?

Believe it or not, it only takes one pilot to physically control the show!

However, we always operate with a secondary trained operator, and dedicated ground crew. Just in case something were to go wrong, we are prepared. The ground crew numbers can vary, depending on the site layout and how many drones are being flown.

How long does it take to plan a show? What is involved?

"This reminds me of the question 'how long is a piece of string?'.

"It all depends on the complexity of the intended choreography, the number of drones required and how long the show is going to last. Some drone light shows can only take a few weeks to go from an idea to the finished product. However, when we are producing larger shows, such as a wedding performance, it can take up to two or three months to design, plan and execute.

"The actual choreography that the drone performs is designed within 3D software. Once the remote operator and the client are happy, we then move on the creating the path for the drone.

"The software we use enables us to see immediately a variety of information such as collisions that have been detected, near misses, speeds and a whole host of other useful information. The remote operator is then able to analyse this data to determine if it is safe to proceed with the show. If there are any red flags raised, we go back to the drawing board!"

"Once the design stage has been completed, it is then processed and the result is the path files for the drone. This information can then be taken and displayed on the intended flight area, which means we can view the show from any perspective. It can even be displayed in virtual reality which is awesome.

"It also shows us all the boundaries within our flight volume, we utilise several geofences and these are clearly shown within the data.

"Actual planning of the flights is fairly similar to the standard checks you would carry out on a normal commercial flight. However, we go much further into depth regarding site surveys, frequency checks, site hazards, practice and testing the flights - to be absolutely certain that everything will go to plan."

How do weather conditions affect the performance of the drones?

"With the U.K being the lovely, warm, dry country it is, we use waterproof drones. Aside from high winds of a torrential downpour, the main concern would be high K.P indexes effecting the RTK GPS and standard GPS capabilities.

"With so many drones in a much denser environment, we need to ensure accuracy!"

What are your future plans for Swamtech drones and performing drone light shows?

"That would be telling! Plus, much of our works are covered by NDA, especially projects such as product launches. What I can say, is that we have a variety of exciting projects coming up in the future!"

"We are always looking at ways to improve our shows, and our Swarmation team are always trying new concepts to achieve the absolute best out of our equipment.

"When people think drone light shows they immediately think of the large continental displays of 400 or even1000 drones. Whilst we would love to be flying 1000 drones all the time, this may not be ideal. For example, a smaller wedding venue or within tighter urban surroundings. Planning shows with a lesser number of drones can sometimes be as challenging as producing the larger shows!"

Want to create your own drone light show?

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