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FIREWORKS vs DRONES

28.03.20

Many moan about the long, dark nights of January and February, yearning for springtime when the sun stays out a bit longer and the temperatures start to rise. That is until a global pandemic takes holds and our way of life changes completely…

 

A more “typical” springtime, however, does give some in our society a reason to celebrate – fireworks season is over. As early as October all the way through to New Year’s Eve, there are plenty of excuses to illuminate the night’s sky – Bonfire Night, winter weddings, Christmas parties… the list goes on.

Shanghai featured heavily in the news cycle for the first few days of the new decade thanks to their innovative display which saw 2,000 drone swarms emulating fireworks shapes, animated running man figures and Chinese characters in the sky over the Pudong district. Soon picked up by the world’s media, it was widely hailed “as a futuristic and low-pollution alternative to traditional fireworks”. Although later reported to have been pre-recorded, this advanced display of technological prowess could be called anything but a damp squib. “Jaw-droppingly cool” would be more appropriate.

It comes after China banned the use of fireworks in more than 400 cities, and is now turning to drone technology to bring colour to the skies. With fireworks originating in China during the Song dynasty (960 – 1279), it seems fitting that China are the ones to pioneer an electronic replacement. 

In May 2019, for the China International Big Data Industry Expo, 526 drones took to the night sky simultaneously above Guiyang to form beautiful, colour-changing, three-dimensional images in mid-air. It genuinely looks a sight to behold, and one that I’d love to experience in person. 

The Guinness World Record for the “most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously” is held by Intel Corporation, thanks to their 2,066 drones that flew over Folsom, California in July 2018.  According to GWR:

This record celebrates Intel's 50th anniversary. All drones were controlled by one computer and performed an impressive light show choreographed into an aerial ballet spectacle accompanied by music. Each drone is capable of 4 billion colour combinations and the animations included Intel's old and new logo to show their growth as a company over the 50 years. 

Intel have also been responsible for impressive drone displays at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar landing, above the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, and as part of The Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle experience at Universal Studios, Hollywood.

Indeed, welcoming the New Year by watching fireworks light up landmarks across the globe has become part of tradition for millions of us – much to the frustration of a growing number of objectors. One core issue, in the UK especially, is that fireworks aren’t limited to professional displays. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can set them off in their back garden without warning, adequate safety precautions or consideration for the neighbours or the terrified furry creatures that reside with them. In years gone by, I have been one of them. 

In 2019, however, things changed. Public outcry – in the form of a petition with more than 300,000 signatures - led Sainsbury’s to become the first major supermarket to stop selling fireworks at its 2,300 stores across the UK.

 

The petition, submitted to the UK Government and Parliament, was summarised by the initiator as:

 

Every year more and more people, animals and wildlife get hurt by fireworks. It’s time something was fine [sic] to stop this. There are enough organised firework groups around for us to still enjoy fireworks safely so please help me stop the needless sale of them to the public!

The noise from fireworks causes a great amount of fear, stress and anxiety in wild animals. Errant fireworks can also cause environmental damage though [sic] fires, and from the release of poisonous chemicals and particle-laden smoke, which is not just inhaled by wildlife, but contaminates the natural environment. 

In England last year, 4,436 individuals attended A&E because of an injury caused by a firework - more than double the 2,141 in 2009/10. 

With around 40% of the UKs dogs being scared.

 

Aptly addressed on 5th November, the Government responded:

The Government recognises that many people have strong feelings about fireworks, and the potential negative impact they can have on a community, for example, by causing distress to individuals or animals.

 

However, we believe that the majority of people who use fireworks do so appropriately and have a sensible and responsible attitude towards them. We consider it a minority of people who use fireworks in a dangerous, inconsiderate or anti-social manner.

Whilst additional fact finding and research projects are purportedly underway, other countries are seeking to modernise their displays using a less disruptive method – namely, drones. 

There’s certainly a lot going for drone displays beyond merely being new and different.

 

For starters, they offer more programmability, reusability and flexibility than traditional fireworks. They’re environmentally safer - a particular plus for dry states in the US that are prone to wildfires – and they produce next to no waste in comparison to their pyrotechnic counterparts.  

 

What’s more, you can say goodbye to the whizzes, squeals and bangs that prove to be so unsettling for PTSD sufferers, phobics and pets alike.  

The downsides? They are expensive and are at the mercy of winds - undoubtedly a worry for large event organisers who don’t like to disappoint.   

As things stand, we’re likely years off drone displays becoming the norm, but I get the strong feeling that New Year’s celebrations at the start of the next decade will go off without a bang…

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