The ABCs of designing, developing, and producing a swarm drone light show.
How it Works: The Anatomy of a Drone Light Show
Strategy & Planning
Step 1: Understand the Objectives and Align Strategy
The first step is to clearly define the objectives and goals of the drone light show. Our initial discussions with clients include questions like:
- What message does the drone light show aim to convey?
- Is the drone light show for entertainment, marketing, or a special occasion?
- Is the show integrated into a larger campaign or sequence of events?
- How do you measure success?
Understanding the answers to these questions about purpose and ROI metrics will help shape all subsequent decisions in the strategy and planning process.
Step 2: Site Planning and Visit
There are a number of key logistical factors to consider when selecting a site for your drone light show.
- Airspace regulations
- Weather conditions
- Audience accessibility
- Availability of power sources
- Take-off and landing zones for drone grid
- Back-up emergency plans
- Collaboration with local law enforcement
- Obtaining approval from various regulatory agencies
A thorough site visit is also strongly recommended to ensure that the conductions are appropriate.
Navigating these complex processes and procedures is crucial to the health and well-being of your drone light show. The good news is the professionals from the Pixis team can help with all the details - so you can just look up and enjoy the show.
Step 3: Creative Development
Not all drone light shows are created equal. Every show we produce is custom-built to meet the specific needs of our client. The two most important variables in success are aligning the strategy with objectives and crushing the creative—the story, choreography, patterns, and colors should all be designed to elicit awe and wonder. Our creative process is highly iterative and starts with low-definition storyboarding, then evolves into prototype development using specialized software before being finalized and crafted using 3D animation software.
Step 4: Developing the Drone Light Show
After the creative for the show is locked, technical production of the show begins. The animation sequences are exported from the 3D animation software and imported into the drone swarm flight path management software, where drones are assigned specific roles within the animation. Creating accurate flight paths is crucial, and this can be done manually or with pre-designed templates, ensuring the animation aligns perfectly with these paths. Finally, the animation's timing is fine-tuned, synchronizing the drone's movement to the animation for a seamless performance.
Step 5: Site Set Up and Grid Construction
Depending on the scale and location of the drone light show, site setup, and grid construction could take anywhere between four hours and several days. Numerous tasks must be completed during site setup, from putting up canopies for the production and flight crews to setting up generators and the command center with all relevant flight control equipment, including satellite communications antennas and other specialized hardware required for swarm drone light show flight operations.
The design and setup of the takeoff and landing zone - or “grid” - are critical to the success of the production. The initial steps for this are completed during the strategy and planning phase during the site visit and selection.
Step 6: Test Flights
Once the site is set up and secured, the next step is to conduct hover tests and a test flight. After a successful test flight, the team is ready to execute the drone light show and deliver a magical experience for the client and their audience.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many drones can be flown at once in a drone show?
Our drone shows typically start at 200 drones. Larger drone light shows can include 500 or more drones or more (special permits may be required).
How long is a drone light show?
Drone showtimes last approximately 12 minutes from launch to landing.. Multiple drone shows can also be flown in one night, extending this time limit.
At what altitude do drone light shows take place?
Drones fly at a maximum height of 400 feet above the ground and are visible up to four or five miles away depending on atmospheric conditions during a drone show.
The Creative Process
Can music, narration or additional lighting be added to drone shows?
Absolutely! Audio or visual components can be integrated into any drone show.
What kind of visuals are possible for my drone show?
Our dynamic drone shows can produce a combination of logos, shapes, imagery, and text. Depth and richness of visuals depend on the number of drones used in the drone show. Smaller shows produce crisp 2D images, while larger shows deliver powerful 3D images with fluid transitions. In both scenarios, we can create complex dynamic visuals integrating logos, QR codes, figures, shapes, text, and motion.
Safety & Regulations
Are drone light shows safe?
At Pixis, we prioritize audience and drone team safety above all else. Our software builds geofences into the programming. In the rare instance a drone malfunctions, it automatically returns to its launch spot location.
Are special permits required for a drone show display?
Yes. Pixis retains the applicable FAA waivers required to fly anywhere within the United States. Additional permits may be required depending on the airspace where the drone show is located or for a display that includes more than 500 or more drones.
Does weather affect a drone light show?
Drone show displays cannot take place in heavy precipitation or in wind speeds over 20 MPH.
How much does a drone light show cost?
Drone show cost varies in price depending upon the number of drones, location, date(s) and the complexity of the programming. A lower rate is available when discounts are applied for booking multiple drone shows.
How much lead time is needed to create and produce a show?
Putting on a professional drone show takes approximately 6-8 weeks from show conceptualization to launch. This process can be expedited in select cases (additional costs may apply).
Drone Light Show Glossary of Terms
Augmented Reality Apps
Some drone light show events may incorporate augmented reality apps that allow spectators to use their smartphones or tablets to view additional digital content related to the show.
In some cases, attendees may wear augmented reality glasses that overlay digital information onto their field of vision.
Duration for which a drone can fly on a single charge. It's a critical factor for the duration of light shows.
A collection of multiple drones used in a coordinated manner for a light show.
Drone Show Choreography Software
Software designed to program and control multiple drones' movement and lighting patterns simultaneously.
FAA 107 License
The FAA Part 107 license is a legal prerequisite for drone operators conducting commercial drone shows in the United States. It signifies that the operator has met the FAA's requirements for knowledge, safety, and regulatory compliance, which are essential for drones' safe and legal operation in aerial performances.
Safety measures and protocols are in place to handle situations where a drone malfunctions or loses communication.
The predefined route or movement pattern a drone will follow during a performance.
A specific arrangement or pattern of drones in the sky, e.g., a heart shape or a logo.
A virtual boundary using GPS coordinates, ensuring drones remain within a specified area during a performance.
Using Global Positioning System signals to position drones in the sky accurately.
The Grid Manager is responsible for the meticulous planning, coordination, and execution of the choreography for drone shows. They work closely with the RPIC, creative teams, and ground crew to ensure the aerial performance is visually stunning, safe, and flawlessly synchronized. The Grid Manager's technical expertise and attention to detail are critical for delivering captivating and memorable drone light shows.
A centralized control system or computer communicating with and directing the drone fleet during a show.
The designated area where drones conclude their flight and land post-performance.
The arrangement of LED lights on a drone can be programmed to display different colors and patterns.
The capability to monitor drones' status, position, and health in real time during a show.
Backup drones or systems on standby to take over in case of any malfunction or failure.
Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC)
The RPIC plays a critical role in drone shows and is responsible for regulatory compliance, safety, flight planning, technical control, and communication. Their expertise and decision-making skills are essential to the safe and successful execution of drone light shows, ensuring that audiences are treated to captivating and flawlessly choreographed aerial displays.
Radio frequency signals are used to communicate with and control drones from the ground station.
RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) for Drones
RTK is a satellite-based positioning system that enhances the accuracy of a drone's GPS (Global Positioning System) by using correction data from a fixed base station or network of reference stations.
A musical accompaniment synchronized with the drone light display.
Synchronized Haptic Feedback
During a drone light show, each spectator could wear a haptic wristband programmed to synchronize with the drone formations and LED light displays. As drones move and create patterns in the sky, the wristbands could generate vibrations or haptic feedback corresponding to the movements, creating a sensory connection between the audience and the aerial performance.
Visual Observer (VO)
The Visual Observer plays a pivotal role in the safe and precise execution of drone light shows. They enhance situational awareness, assist with communication, and provide an additional layer of safety oversight to ensure that the show proceeds smoothly and without incidents. Collaboration between the RPIC and the VO is critical for the success of drone light shows and the safety of all involved.