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Boom or Bust? Drones Replace Fireworks in Some Drought-Ravaged Western U.S. States

Drones replacing fireworks by flying to engaging music soundtracks in Arizona, California and Colorado, but where’s the boom?

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Boom or Bust? Drones Replace Fireworks in Some Drought-Ravaged Western U.S. States

Stampede is known for its colorful presence at tradeshows such as InfoComm.

I celebrated our country’s independence by crashing a longtime friend’s family party, spending the afternoon gorging on Portuguese delicacies and working on a long-term plan to someday perfect my horseshoe throwing, capping the night by watching fireworks a bit too close where they’re set off.

I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as the most adventurous person in the world, so literally taking my life in my hands by positioning myself to be brushed with firework ash and embers falling from the sky is atypical for me, but it’s about all I’ve known for the past decade and it’s become part of my July 4 tradition.

With that said, I’m intrigued by the idea of drones replacing fireworks, as is happening in Arizona, California, Colorado and other states across the western part of the U.S., where wildfires make the barrage of flammable flying objects a bit too risky a practice for the time being—and maybe forever.

AV and Drones: Get Used to It?

Stampede president and COO Kevin Kelly has been the loudest advocate for AV integration firms to find new and more ways to incorporate drones into what they do, so it’s no surprise he was the one who tweeted the USA Today piece about July 4 drone shows that I saw earlier this week. 

While I’m still skeptical Kelly will ever find the support he wants to bring drones to the pro AV mainstream, he may find more advocates in replacing fireworks with drones on Independence Days in the future.

Within the past couple of years, drones have been featured in some prominent sporting events, including Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show in 2017 and a pre-recorded display during the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

When it comes to July 4 fireworks, though, there’s something about that BOOM! that drones can’t quite replace, no matter what Anil Nanduri, GM of Intel’s drone group, says.

“For 12 centuries fireworks were the only way to light up the night sky,” said Nanduri in USA Today this week. “Now we have technology that allows us to do precision animation and storytelling. We can write words and draw objects in the sky.”

It’s Been Done Before, Kind Of

To me, this sounds a lot like the projection mapping shows that have become a staple of Disney properties in recent years. Again, those are incredible and always fascinating to see, but what’s July 4 and a fireworks spectacular if you don’t drive home with a little ringing in your ears?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association (who knew there was a such a thing?) questions the wisdom of drones replacing fireworks as a way for Americans to celebrate their freedom.

Fireworks “are a multisensory experience with sounds and colors and a thunderous finale people can feel in their chests,” association leader Julie Heckman told USA Today. Drone shows, on the other hand, mostly feature a low buzzing, somewhat like a swarm of bumble bees, she said.

“I don’t think a drone display is going to make people ‘ooh and ah,’” Heckman said. “There’s a real thrill in being able to light your own fireworks. When they introduced lasers, it didn’t take away from the firework experience at all.”

Cost and oversight are two more important considerations in the drones replacing fireworks debate. One-time drone shows are not cheap, though the cost is less per show if they are done over multiple days because the drones are reusable.

But they still are substantially more than firework shows because the technology is still new and evolving.

At the fireworks show I watch on July 4, part of the fun is watching amateurs flirt with possible injury as they entertain the crowd on the shore while more structured, town-sanctioned shows surround them on every side. We always joke about people losing fingers or having their eyebrows singed from the very much unsanctioned show.

I can only imagine the danger we’d see before our eyes if drones replaced fireworks in this secret, undisclosed location.

Count me among those who likes watching drone shows, but prefers fireworks on July 4. Decide for yourself. Would you like to see your town replace July 4 fireworks with a drone show?

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