Interest growing in drones for entertainment shows

Have you already watched a drone show? If not, chances are you will in the near future, thanks to the efforts of leading companies like Intel and Disney.


The interest towards the use of drone technologies in the entertainment industry is growing.

As PricewaterhouseCoopers highlights in a report published in May 2016, the market for drone-powered solutions in entertainment shows and special effects plays a good role in the total market of drone services in the media & entertainment industry, valued at $8.8 billion.

Recent news confirms that drone technologies are being increasingly adopted in the design and production of entertainment shows.

Intel: From The Spaxels To The Shooting Star

On Nov. 4, 2016 Intel launched a new drone specifically designed for light shows: the Shooting Star Drone.

A month earlier, on Oct. 7, 2016 a fleet of 500 Shooting Star drones were used by Intel to successfully set a new record for the Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously in a football field close to Hamburg, Germany.

Intel first achieved this Guinness World Record title in Nov. 2015 with 100 drones (check our interesting interview with Sergio Abruja, 100 Drone show Director, on the behind-the-scenes of that show):

Intel Drone 100 light show - orchestra

Drone 100, first Intel world-record drone performance, performed in 2015 by a fleet of Intel/Spaxels drones and a 25-piece orchestra. Image: Intel

The drones used for that show were built with the Austria-based company Spaxels (a subsidiary of Ars Electronica), specialized in designing and executing spectacular airborne light shows for outdoor events. Spaxels’ drone swarm has performed in Sydney, London, and Linz:

Spaxels drones perform over Linz, Austria

Spaxels drones performance over Linz, Austria in Sep. 2016. Image: Spaxels

While Spaxels and Intel keep collaborating on shows around the world where Spaxels drones are still used, Intel has in the last year developed their own drone for entertainment shows, the Shooting Star. Intel has also worked to improve the software behind the drones’ management.

The new 2016 Intel show created using the 500 Shooting Star drones exhibits an amazing control of the drones, thanks to the proprietary software developed by Intel.

The Intel software allows users to build the show, creating complex patterns of lights and choreography, in just a few days. One computer is all that is needed to manage and synchronize the entire fleet during the show.

The Shooting Star drones weigh just 280 grams, come with a set of configurable LEDs (red, green, blue and white) to provide the  show in the night sky, can stay airborne for up to 20 minutes and have a control range of up to 1.5 kilometers.

They also have specific features built with the purpose of safety for the crowd. They can fly in light rain, are constructed with a soft frame made of flexible plastics and foam, without screws, have geofencing controls and covered cages protect the propellers.

Intel Shooting Star drone

Intel Shooting Star drone. The propeller are covered by a cage, and the drone weighs 280 grams – less than the weight of a volleyball – to make it safer. Image: Intel

Intel hasn’t shared their plans yet on how the Shooting Star drones will be brought to market, but they could easily be offered as a service to theme parks, entertainment companies, and cities.

In the meantime, Intel has received their Part 107 waiver for operation of multiple UAS enabling multi-drone flight operations in U.S. Class G airspace. As Natalie Cheung, UAV product manager at Intel, said to Drone 360:

“We worked with the FAA to explain and understand the Shooting Star drone to them, and they gave us a waiver to fly not only multiple drones, but with one pilot and at night.”

Intel is not investing in drone technology primarily for its entertainment applications. As Recode comments, the Shooting Star Drone and the research behind it are a

“demonstration for Intel of what might one day end up in other machines, rather than Intel’s own marketable product.”

Some top players in the entertainment industry, though, are heavily investing in building and researching drone technologies specifically for their shows and for entertainment purposes.

Cirque Du Soleil: From Sparked To Paramour

In May 2016, Cirque Du Soleil launched a $25 million show in Broadway, “Paramour”. This production marks the first time drones have been used on Broadway.

During the show, drones masked as lampshades take the stage for a few minutes, dancing in the air.

Cirque Du Soleil is one of the pioneers in testing drones for shows. The cutting-edge sequence in “Paramour” grew out of an earlier collaboration between Cirque and Zurich-based Verity Studios, which brought to the production of the video Sparked in 2014.

Sparked, which became a viral success on YouTube and won an award at the New York Drone Film Festival 2016, showcases the creative potential of drones.

Disney: From The Patents To FAA Permission

Disney has shown great interest in using drones in its park’s shows for some time.

Back to 2014, MarketWatch reported about three of Disney’s drone-related patent filings. The first patent was filed to utilize drones in the movement of giant marionette-like characters

Disney patent to use drones to fly puppets over spectators

Disney’s patent 20140231590 plans to use drones to fly puppets over spectators. Drones could support and articulate aerial marionettes. Image capture from Disney’s patent application.

In the second filing, drones would become lit-up substitutes for a regular fireworks show. In the third patent, Disney describes an integrated system including drones, projectors and large floating screens (carried by drones):

Disney patent to use drones to support projection screens

Disney patent 20140233099 plans to use drones to support and move projection screens in the display air space. Image capture from Disney’s patent application

In Feb. 2106, Disney filed a further patent to use drones with projectors and screens. The patent features multiple variations of a drone, projector, and reflector combination.

Just last week, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts were granted FAA permission for night operations and operations with multiple drones, so drone shows in Disney’s parks might start soon – at least in the U.S.

Puy Du Fou, Pixiel & The Neopters

Disney however, won’t be the first big theme park operator to take advantage of drone technologies to improve and innovate their shows.

Thanks to the possibilities offered by French regulation, the theme park Puy Du Fou, in the heart of the Vendée region of Western France, permanently started using its Neopter drone on August 29, 2015 as part of Cinéscénie, the park’s elaborate summer nighttime spectacle.

Neopter drones in Puy Du Fou show

Spot the Neopter drones! Image: Puy Du Fou

The Neopter drones were developed by the park and Belgian company ACT Lighting Design , approved by DGAC (Directorate General of Civil Aviation), and first tested in the park – France’s second biggest after Disneyland Paris – at the end of the 2014 season. Droneapps offers an interesting piece on the background of the development of the Neopters.

The new generation of Neopter drone is now developed by Pixiel, a leading French professional civilian drones specialist company.

The show Cinéscénie is the world’s biggest night-time spectacle, performing to 14,000 spectators twice a week. It features 800 actors and hundreds of animals as well as fountains, water projections, pyrotechnics, stunts and battles in front of the ruins of a castle.

Puy Du Fou - Cinescenie

The night show, Cinescenie at the park Puy Du Fou. Image: Puy Du Fou

The Neopters provide synchronised aerial choreography at heights of 60 m at night-time, carrying light displays weighing 2 kg for 15 minutes, less than 150 metres away from an audience in complete safety, in sync with lighting, audio, visual, pyrotechnic and special effects.

Curious about the behind-the-scene of the Neopters in this show? Watch this video:

I’m sure that the building of drones such as the Shooting Star Drone or the Neopter, and the R&D on swarms/fleet management systems conducted by the likes of Intel, Disney, Spaxels and Pixiel, will open new frontiers to a variety of commercial applications for drone fleets, from advertising to the management of emergency situations.

(top image: Intel)

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