Why Drones are Replacing 4th of July Fireworks

2018 Travis Air Force Base Independence Day Drone Show.  Source:    Intel.com

2018 Travis Air Force Base Independence Day Drone Show. Source: Intel.com

It’s Independence Day, just nearing dusk. You, your family and friends make your way to the highest point in your neighborhood, to catch the local fireworks show. It’s a time-honored tradition you wouldn’t miss--except, this year, there are no fireworks in the display. You’re watching a drone show, instead.

Why would the town choose drones over fireworks, you wonder. Is this a technology change that is here to stay? 

A Public Safety Priority

The drone versus fireworks trend exploded (yes, pun intended) in 2018, following the season of wildfires that ravaged the Western United States. Communities in the West wanted to protect themselves against additional potential fires, but still give citizens their annual fireworks experience. So, cities in states like California, Arizona and Colorado planned drone shows instead.

Travis Air Force Base in California was one location leading the charge. Working with Intel, they assembled a display with 500 drones, choreographed in a routine to honor active military and veterans. Each drone, weighing under a pound, was equipped with its own LED light, programmed individually with a main computer on-the-ground. According to Intel, the drones created over 4 billion color combinations. 

Other communities including Carefree and Cave Creek Arizona, and Aspen, Colorado, joined the trend, citing similar public safety concerns.

Benefits of Continued Drone Use

Public Safety remains the major concern around fireworks use--in Western towns with potential wildfires, to Eastern cities with frequent fireworks-related accidents. In 2016 alone, there were 11,000 fireworks related injuries in the United States, and multiple deaths. Drone use drastically reduces the chance of injury, helping keep communities safer during displays.

Ancillary benefits include lack of smoke, which is beneficial for people with certain health concerns; and, quieter presentations, helping accommodate hearing sensitivities and people with PTSD, like veterans.

Additionally, drones light displays are typically cheaper, if not comparable in price to fireworks. In 2018, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fireworks, with a show with larger shells and music costing over $20,000. According to Great Lakes Drone Company, a similar show typically starts at $15,000

Drones can also create more complex patterns than fireworks. While they don’t move as fast as fireworks, they are more responsive, since they’re connected to a computer system. And they can create incredible sky displays--like at the opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The show boasted over 1,200 drones, projecting color figures of olympic athletes, each morphing into each other throughout the show. 

For 2019

For this year’s 4th, Aspen, Colorado, is planning a drone lights show, building on last year’s trend. Jennifer Albright Carney, VP of Event Marketing at the Aspen Chamber of Commerce, said that they “began looking into drones instead of fireworks for the Fourth of July last spring, knowing that dry conditions are likely to continue to be a fact of life in Aspen.”

Cited benefits include reducing wildfire risk and environmental pollution, and creating a general ease-of-experience for attendees.

Other communities are calling their shows off entirely. Frisco, Colorado, a town about 70 miles west of Denver, reported it will not hold its annual Independence Day fireworks display due to concerns around public safety and wildfire risks. Mayor Gary Wilkinson says the town council has opted to "start new traditions" respecting community and environmental health and safety.

Here to Stay?

While some communities in the Western United States continue to switch to drones, or cancel Independence Day fireworks shows entirely, there is certainly a question of drones’ continued use. Officials in Aspen have noted that they may switch back to fireworks, depending on current-year conditions.

But, as drone technology continues to advance and proliferate, it’s also possible drone light shows will become more affordable for cities--and easier to operate and dictate. Such advances could help protests around firework shows, like at Mount Rushmore, where a re-instated display is scheduled for 2020

Will drones replace fireworks, for good? The evolution of technology meets public need is sometimes a question mark. 

Thoughts? Leave your comments below to start a discussion.

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