If China — where fireworks were invented — is hosting massive celebratory drone light shows instead of fireworks, why can’t the USA?

After months of lockdown, people are starved for entertainment. They’ve apparently binge-watched everything they ever wanted to see on Netflix, HBO and Disney+, played video games until their eyes bled, and became bored enough to even manage to read a book or two.

So with the 4th of July rapidly approaching, many Americans are looking for something different to occupy their time and to empty their wallets, and fireworks fit the bill. But fireworks come with their own list of issues, including the fact that they terrify birds and wildlife as well as pets; they add toxic chemical pollutants to the air, water and land; litter the landscape with spent plastic casings; create inescapable explosions that can trigger terror in veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; and increase the risk of fires at a time when the wildfire risk in many places is already high. Further, the private use of fireworks is accompanied by the ever-present danger of damaging one’s hearing and losing body parts.

Are drone light shows the solution to “the fireworks problem”?

Drone light shows differ from fireworks displays because drones are reusable, and do not produce chemical and noise pollution. However, there are only a few dozen companies in the world that have the proper permits, training and technical skills to plan and carry out a large-scale drone light show. One such company is Intel, which is at the forefront of this technology. It specializes in creating dynamic 3D light shows using autonomous swarms of drones that they designed especially for light shows; the Shooting Star.

Light show drones, such as Intel’s Shooting Stars, are very small unmanned quadcopters — a helicopter with four rotors.

“Weighing in at only 280 grams or less than the weight of a volleyball, the Intel Shooting Star drone is constructed with a soft frame made of flexible plastics and foam and contains no screws”, according to an Intel spokesperson. “The quadcopter’s propellers are also protected by covered cages – all features designed to ensure the drone is safe to fly, is splash-proof and can fly in light rain.”

Drones used to create light shows are equipped with just the barest essentials: Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors and a powerful LED light that can create more than four billion color combinations. This allows them to produce a greater range of effects than fireworks and to present almost unlimited opportunities for artistic storytelling in the sky. Drones can also fly safely in constrained air spaces where fireworks are simply not feasible. Further, drones are so quiet that they have been used with increasing frequency to monitor wildlife (i. e.; see ref).

Light show drones are usually controlled in fleets of hundreds by a remote computer to create colorful shapes and patterns in the night sky. But as computer technology progresses, fleet size grows. For example, in 2015, a Guinness World Records title was awarded to a fleet of 100 drones. In 2019, it was 2,018. Additionally, as 5G technology advances, location tracking will become more precise so drones will be able to fly closer together to create ever more detailed and intricate patterns in the sky.

In a modern world where even China recognizes that environmental concerns over the many harms from conventional fireworks should take priority, it makes little sense to continue using fireworks to entertain the public. If China — where fireworks were invented — is hosting massive celebratory drone light shows instead of fireworks, why can’t the USA?