Those wild firework drones after Joe Biden’s victory speech, explained

A light show in Wilmington, Delaware, illuminated the night sky spelling out “Biden,” “46” and “USA.”‘ It even included a map of the United States.

It wasn’t just your traditional fireworks at work: The technology that made it possible included a swarm of drones equipped with special lights. It’s been used at Disney theme park shows for years and showcased at other big-ticket events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

The drone light shows are powered by multiple LED-lit drones.

They swirl through the sky in a choregraphed dance at the control of a computer and a human “pilot,” and they’re pre-programmed to show specific words, colors and images. The drones are usually quadcopters — a drone with four rotors and often complement firework displays.

But the power isn’t in the drones; it’s packed inside the software.

Each drone uses a GPS system for their positioning and navigation and are controlled with automated software through a computer. The software can turn graphics into flight commands that are communicated to each drone. The drones are typically launched from the ground and monitored using wireless communication during the show.

The number of drones used for a show can range anywhere from 50 to thousands, with shows lasting roughly 5 to 15 minutes depending on the drones’ weight and battery capacity. And the costs for a show can be pretty pricey.

Approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is required for flying these shows in the United States along with waivers to fly at night and for the management of multiple drones by one pilot. Only a select few companies have been granted these permissions.

Tech conglomerate Intel (INTC) has been a pioneer in drone light show technology, working with big festivals and events including Coachella. The company held the Guinness World Record in 2018 for the largest number of drones used in a show with 2,066 simultaneous drones in a performance. In September, a drone light show display in China broke that record with 3,051 drones.


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