Fireworks were first used in China during the Song Dynasty between 960-1279 to help celebrate festivals. These were simple explosive flashes that would brighten the night sky. In the 1830s Europeans discovered how to add colors to fireworks. By the early 20th century, modern skyrocket fireworks had made it possible for trained pyrotechnicians to display elaborate firework shows. Over the following century, firework displays became the standard for celebrating momentous events around the world. Then, in the early 2000’s, a new technology slowly began to emerge that would change aerial night shows.
In 2012, Ars Electronica Futurelab introduced the world to the phenomenon of drone light shows in Linz, Austria. The 49 mini drones, called SPAXELS, were equipped with LED lights that danced through the sky to a preprogrammed flight plan. The drone light show was so popular that it started a revolution in the entertainment industry. Soon thereafter, American technology company Intel developed the Shooting Star drone. A Styrofoam bodied drone small enough to fit in the palm of an adult hand, housing a bright LED bulb. A single computer and operator can control a massive fleet of Shooting Star drones that can produce more than 4 billion color combinations. Detailed images and messages are plotted into a computer program, the operator presses a button, and the drones lift to the sky to autonomously complete the image commands.
In Krailling, Germany in November of 2016, Intel set a new Guinness World Record with a drone display featuring 500 Shooting Star drones. Since then, the record has been broken numerous times. On March 29, 2021, Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis put on an amazing drone show in Shanghai. The show was to commemorate the release of Genesis in China and featured 3,281 mini LED drones, setting a new world record for the most drones flown simultaneously. China has been the location of several drone record setting events, constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible with drones. Now, drone light shows are even more sophisticated, featuring images that seamlessly stitch together to seem like an animated film in the sky.
Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, the coronavirus, drone light shows have become even more popular. They have been a way to entertain people while maintaining social distancing. Drone light shows are being coordinated to bring hope to people and show appreciation for all of the critical employees working to contain COVID-19. About a month after China set a record for the most drones flying at one time together, the country hosted yet another groundbreaking drone light show. This time was the first to have a drone light show with an audience participation feature.
On April 17, 2021, Chinese video sharing giant BiliBili wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of the hugely popular Japanese role playing video game, Princess Connect! Re:Dive, being available in China. While drone light shows have risen in popularity during the pandemic, mobile gaming has increased tremendously because of people being in quarantine. To thank those who had downloaded the Princess Connect! Re:Dive game, BiliBili lit up the Shanghai skyline with 1,500 drones. The drone show began by illuminating the shape of a smartphone with the game title in the center. The game’s characters then formed within the screen space of the phone. Moments later, the characters broke free of the phone and began to enact a scene from the game.
After the giant characters, represented by the drones, win a round of the game, a new scene emerges. The drones formed a star shaped dais upon which the game’s heroine, Princess Pecorine, stands wielding a sword. Next, the princess is shown with a set of animal ears reading from a book, all images from the game. But what truly set this drone show apart from others was the final image of the event. Capturing the phenomenal marketing opportunity of a public drone light show, BiliBili ended the drone show with a way that the audience could instantly access the link to download the game. The final image the drones formed was of a giant QR code (Quick Response code) in the sky. Viewers could hold their phones up to the sky and scan the image with their camera. The QR code would route the potential customer to the app store to install the game immediately on their phones.
Ever since China first began using fireworks to entertain and celebrate, aerial light shows have been a common event. With the advancement of drone technology, these aerial light shows are now easier, cheaper, and safer than ever. Though drones have not made fireworks obsolete, they are becoming the go-to aerial performance method. Drones have lit up the skies at the Olympics, the Super Bowl, concerts, and even at presidential elect victory parties. It makes sense that the next progression for drone light shows will be in the form of guerrilla marketing. After all, the key to marketing is to grab the attention of as many customers as possible in a novel way. What better way to do that than with a flashy drone light show?