Dancing Drones are Revamping Entertainment

It was a time when mini helicopters were the staples of the movies, not the stage. In 2012, while the audience were enthralled by the performance by Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase they were suddenly transported to a new level of stage presentation. Jonathan Santana & Xander Smith of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi set a new benchmark by awing the audience with a sound and light show – just that there were drones performing synchronized flight patterns, and composing music through ‘live’ light manipulation.

The audience entered a brave new world of visual territory with hovering quad rotors buzzing around the stage in unison. An angelic soundscape rendered a feeling of otherworldliness. The performance included a single ray of light that hit a glass pyramid with a disembodied voice precluded a mesmerizing performance by the quad rotors, which moved effortlessly around the stage creating an illusion of magical movements.

In September 2014, Canadian theatrical troupe Cirque du Soleil released SPARKED. The video used helicopter drones decorated as lamp shades that flew around a lamp repairman in a mischievous act.

These are just two of several events around the world where drones are increasingly becoming an integral part of live stage shows. In April 2015, Fjuze in collaboration with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, conducted a first aerial entertainment show of its kind using drone technology. Aerial robots spun around in dizzying dances of lasers across the Amsterdam Arena. It showcased a variety of ballets and battles, races and lasers, circuses, illusions and magic from hundreds of drones that were fitted with projectors.

The drone industry is becoming busier and bigger with each passing year. A Goldman Sachs report predicts that global spending on drones will top $100 billion over the next five years. The September 2015 Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval set a benchmark for the entertainment industry. While drones have made their mark in enhancing photography and videography, they’ve been changing the world view of stage shows.

Intel behind Disney’s realistic VR scope

Source: Disney’s patent US8862285B2 which describes using a cluster of lighting drones to create images in the sky.

Source: Disney’s patent US8862285B2 which describes using a cluster of lighting drones to create images in the sky.

On November 20th, 2016, technology major Intel and entertainment giant Disney collaborated to present an innovative holiday experience at the Walt Disney World resort in Florida. They deployed 300 drones to paint the sky with colorful images. All the drones were “choreographed” for aerial performances that converted the virtual world into a real-life experience.

Disney’s patent US8862285B2 describes a technology that allows a cluster of lighting drones to create images in the sky – very similar to images being projected on a screen.

In November 2015, Intel created a Guinness record by controlling a performance of 100 drones using a single computer. A year later, Intel broke its own record by controlling 500 drones using a single computer. These drones are reported to provide at least four billion color combinations in Red-Green-Blue (RGB) lights.

info boxDisney’s air dancing patent

Disney is a giant in the entertainment industry. Now, it nearly seems to be taking the lead in developing drone technology for the world of entertainment. In another interesting patent numbered US8876571B2, Disney describes how to tether a marionette to drones and let it fly high. Each UAV will be programmed with a flight plan. The patent describes a method where all drones deployed are manned by a single computer and they move concurrent to the flight plan to paint a picture of the marionette dancing in the air.

Source: Disney's patent US8876571B2 describes a method to tether marionettes to drones and let them fly high.

Source: Disney’s patent US8876571B2 describes a method to tether marionettes to drones and let them fly high.

Disney owns another interesting patent that describes an aerial display presentation technology. Spoken in length in its patent US 8825225B1, Disney’s inventors describe a method that brings multiple UAVs and flexible projection screens into play. The UAVs man the flight path and position the flexible projections screens to create a display within a designated air space.

Source: Figure 1 of Disney’s patent US 8825225B1 shows a functional block diagram of a multiple UAV system to implement flight control techniques.

Source: Disney’s patent US 8825225B1 shows a functional block diagram of a multiple UAV system to implement flight control techniques.

Rock in Rio with flying copters

The 2017 SPAXELS Rock in Rio world music festival is gearing up to provide an experience of a lifetime this September. It will include an illuminated swarm of drones buzzing overhead to enchant its over one million audience through the week long concert. And this is just the start.

With a wide range of players entering the drone space – specifically, drones for entertainment – the world of theatre and live stage shows could soon fade away the line that separates reality from virtual reality.

(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20160127_Muse_at_Brooklyn_-_Drones_Tour28.jpg)

Deepak Bakshi
Deepak Bakshi

Deepak is a mechanical engineer with a keen interest in evolving automobile technology, specifically when artificial intelligence meets automobile design. he also enjoys sketching and dancing.


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