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Drones – an alternative to fireworks?

Last updated on

October 30, 2020


    Drones for Events: Pixel Artworks & Drone Inspect 

    It’s no secret that this year hasn’t been the best. Lockdown, curfews and generally getting used to living a life in a global pandemic. We’ve adapted to a new way of life and industries are adapting too. Let me introduce you to a new concept: drones for events…

    Bonfire night is usually one of the cosiest nights of the year, with large groups of people gathering in fields all over the country to watch spectacular firework displays. With that out of the question, we have been exploring the future of this event.

    We spoke to Alex Hall from Drone Inspect and Trevor Nichol from Pixel Artworks to find out about their collaboration that is set to take off.

    Pixel Artworks is a licensed organisation for the piloting of drones in the UK and has developed a unique workflow and creative tools to produce spectacular shows through autonomous flight using purpose-built control software.

    They have obtained exclusive permissions for drone flying across iconic London venues which could see the young, dynamic company producing more exciting displays in the future, producing a genuinely spectacular, innovative, and environmentally friendly alternative to costly firework displays.

    The collaboration involves using UAVs to produce light shows in the sky.

    How did the partnership come around? 

    Alex: “I was originally working in events and I transitioned over to working with drones. Trevor and his team approached me because of my background and UAV knowledge, they thought I would be quite a good fit with Pixel Artworks to drive forward this new concept of swarming drones.”

    Trevor: “We were looking for a partner with extensive knowledge on UAVs, automated flight and swarming of multiple UAVs.

    “One of my key worries was that it is quite a different application of the technology, so it was great that we found Alex who also spent many years working in the events and entertainment industry – he has a great set of skills. We have been working together on the concept of using drones for events for 7 months now.”

    What drones are you using to create the light show?

    Alex: “We are currently in the R and D (research and development) phase of testing, we are now working with the CAA to finalise operational permissions. Having conducted tests recently with the whole system to see how it performs and what a wide array of creative displays we can do with it, it’s a case of finding what works best.

    “It is a relatively limited market in terms of what is available hardware wise for the drones, we have to use a specific flight controller and they have to be geared up for doing light shows. We are testing several options and then going to decide which are the ones we want to commit to.”

    Trevor: “Our findings so far are that weather resistance is imperative. Traditional drone missions, like a survey, can be postponed to an extent, but a large scale show which is potentially for a live audience or a live broadcast cannot be cancelled so easily!

    “A lot of people who have previously done light shows around the world are doing it in less light polluted areas so the LED payload brightness is not such a problem. For us our aims are to do shows in central locations, finding a payload that is bright is also a key concern.”

    Are you flying the drones yourself? 

    Alex: “We have got a ratio on the numbers of drones versus the number of pilots. With the swarming side it’s a completely different concept.

    “If you think about autonomous mission mapping in the survey world, where you use various software platforms to automate the surveying mission for an individual drone. We are using a software platform which comes from a company that have developed software for surveying purposes already, they’ve got a division where they have focused on the entertainment side.

    “Effectively all the drones are managed through one platform that are connected through wireless links, these include redundant links too in case one should fail. We have then got the ability for a co-pilot to step in if there is an issue with a drone, we can monitor all of this during the show with the on-screen flight control system.

    “We can monitor every single drone, its flight trajectory, the battery levels and GPS lock. If we see an issue we can step in and take manual control with a physical GCS. It’s quite a flexible system and we can monitor every aspect.

    “Depending on the size of the show affects how many pilots we would deploy along with the observers and technicians. At one time we can be flying anything from 10 to 500 drones. It’s not just a single laptop and someone looking at a display on a screen, it is quite a few different machines and servers and a very complex network setup. There are a lot of things that we have to take into consideration when using drones for events.”

    What is the planning like for one of these events? How long does it take to come together?

    Trevor: “Pixel Artworks’ work is within digital experiences, typically digital video. Our workflow is already in 3D, virtually every single piece of output that we do is made using a 3D piece of software, usually cinema 4D.

    “What interested us when we started looking at drone shows is the origins of path files that the aircraft ends up flying are also created in a 3D piece of software. It’s very easy for us to extend our previous knowledge of cinema 4D and apply it to drones.

    “The basic workflow is that you design in cinema 4D and export each drone path, take it into the software (Drone Show Software), upload the paths to the drones and then play the show back. The lead time can be anywhere between 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the scale of the show. We are currently looking for a partner with a killer project, so we can get planning our next show!”

    What is the benefit of using drones to create these shows?

    Alex: “Safety and environment benefits are the key things. From a safety point of view, we are no longer having to worry about dealing with explosives and quarantining the public.

    “There are still safety issues with drones such as making sure that they are kept at a safe distance. By using drones and collaborating with Pixel Artworks, we are able to create live streams and augmented experiences. For example, you don’t need to have a live audience there, this can be streamed to the masses and augmented with other elements as well.

    “On that basis you eliminate more safety issues as there is not a large amount of people there, not to mention the COVID friendly aspect. We are trying to drive the fact that we are all having to do things differently. Seen as we can’t have mass gatherings of people, we are looking at different ways of how we can produce these shows and how we can show them to the public without them being there.

    “The eco side is that we are not blowing things up in the sky. We are using a new medium that has got so much potential, we are no longer just putting pretty colours in the sky, we have got the ability to write words and put hashtags up there and be really engaging and connected with social media. It’s so much more controllable.

    Will drone light shows one day become the norm?

    Trevor: “I think you can do so much more with drones. For Pixel Artworks it is not necessarily about doing a drone show, I don’t see that we will ever only fly drones as a standalone show.

    “We will always encompass our work with other elements, such as lighting, audio and projection mapping – that accompanied with very considered creative direction is how you get an impressive show. The other thing is noise, drones do have an element of noise, but nothing in comparison to fireworks. They don’t cause the same level of upset to animals, so that’s a big win.”

    Alex: “I know lasers have always been a coherent fit with fireworks, with drones we can still embrace some of the old methods of fireworks and other mediums but in a new way to what has been done before.

    “Who is to say that it can’t be a hybrid between fireworks and drones? You are reducing the environmental impact by using drones, they are another tool in the box. One thing we look at is the ability to attach pyrotechnic payloads to the drones so you can do the hybrid firework drone show.

    “One thing we are conscious about is looking for ways that are better for the environment and won’t have the same impact as fireworks. With fireworks I think it’s “once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”, you end up with a mass of smoke. At the start you are blown away, but it gets to a certain point where you have seen them all. Using the drones for events you can guarantee a new experience where people will be hooked from start to finish.”

    What do you think the future holds for drones in the events sector?

    Alex: “There are so many possibilities, the fact we are able to integrate so many elements is amazing. I can see a lot of festivals (when they eventually come back), will start to embrace drones.

    “They will be able to spread more of a message rather than just setting off fireworks while an act is performing. We will be able to create a bespoke show. The drones can integrate with the act that is on the stage,  being able to link with other platforms and everything being able to run in sync is so unique.

    Trevor: “There is a big market at sporting events, for half time entertainment. If you were trying to do project a video performance, it would be very hard to get the scale required. You very quickly have to go from it being a sports stadium to it being a performance space.

    “The fact drones can very quickly fill an enormous space is a huge advantage. You can also put your brand name up in the sky, so it’s a great marketing tool. Our next research and development is to look at using the drones as augmented reality beacons. You are enhancing the show by lifting your phone to the sky and augmenting the drone show with your phone – watch this space for that!”

    What is the next step for getting these shows out there?

    Alex: “One of the biggest hold backs for anyone looking to go into the drone side of things is the CAA permissions. We are in the process of finalising with them at the moment, it is long process.

    “There are so many different variables, even for the CAA it is a new thing and it is good that they have acknowledged that and are starting to embrace events and providing those organisations with the paperwork they need to put these shows together and how to do it properly.

    “Drones for events is such a new thing. For a company to go at it alone without using someone like Pixel Artworks it would be very difficult. You have got to have a good collaborative team.

    “It will become a big thing, there is a huge element from the environment and eco side, it is really good timing along time the COVID situation to start embracing new technology. People are starting to see the good side of drones and how they can be used positively, and this is another prime example.”

    Trevor: “You have got to design it properly, we have a very strict workflow where you go through the content development stage, the design stage, delivery stage, the show and then a legacy stage. It is a way of making something very complicated become streamlined, which ensures the end product is amazing and purpose built for the final output canvas and audience perspective.

    “I think there are not many drone shows around because people are scared of it, they don’t know how to start with the planning and regulation – many people are used to doing events on the ground but taking that event up into airspace for the first time is daunting, as confidence grows I’m sure drone shows will be a key tool in the box for event designers.”

    Wondering how you can incorporate a drone solution into your next event?

    If you have an exciting event coming up and want to know how you can use a commerical drone to take it to the next level, get in touch with us today.

    We regularly advise clients from a wide range of industries, including fire services, the local government, professional sports, real estate, aerospace, and more.

    We can’t wait to hear from you about your project. We can advise you on the best commercial drone that will suit your needs and the requirements of your event.

    If this article has got your creativity flowing and you are ready to find out more about commercial drones for events, contact us today.

    At Coptrz, we offer CAA-approved online drone training. We offer a range of business starter packages to suit anyone who is ready to begin their drone journey.

    You can download our training brochure here to find out more information. Alternatively, ring us and one of our experts will get your journey started.





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