International Drone Show Contest Aims To Build Community, Create Standards

Applications are now open for the Second International Drone Show Competition, created by Riga, Latvia-based SPH Engineering. The competition is open to drone show designers and engineers from all over the world and incorporates six categories: 
•    Best drone show 3D animation
•    Best drone show (up to 100 drones)
•    Best drone show (100 – 1000 drones)
•    Best drone show (1000+ drones)
•    Best integrated drone show
•    Best drone show business promo video
Winners will receive a diploma and prizes specific to each category including a MacBook Pro 13, a DJI FPV drone, and educational and marketing support. Applications must be received by November 30 and the winners will be announced on December 21, 2021.

SPH Engineering CTO Alexey Dobrovolskiy

Live Design talked with SPH Engineering’s Chief Technology Officer, Alexey Dobrovolskiy, about the goals behind the competition and the future of drones in entertainment. 

Live Design: SPH Engineering produces Drone Show Software, but designers do not need to use your product to enter the competition.  Why did you take this approach?

Alexey Dobrovolskiy: As you know, SPH Engineering is a multiproduct drone software company and Drone Show Software, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, is just one of our product lines. Our goal with the competition is to form a global drone show community, not be exclusive.

LD: Tell us a little about the evolution of DSS.

 AD: The very first version of UgCS, our core product, allowed different users to connect to the system from multiple devices and control flights. This did not appeal to customers for a few years until we got an email query from a US company that checked to see if our software could manage a number of drones making various figures in the sky. We explained the strengths and limitations of our existing software and agreed that we would adjust it to our client’s needs. Paul Creasy from Full Spectrum  was our first drone show client. For a few years he arranged drone shows in an amusement park near Atlanta . 
That version was complicated and could only manage about 20 drones. One of my engineers believed we had to create a brand new software. To persuade me, he did not talk to me for a couple of weeks and then presented a demo of how a new solution would work. That was a great fresh view!  It eventually became the prototype for Drone Show Software which can manage hundreds of drones. The solution attracted many more customers who use DSS for their event needs. Today, our software can support shows of over a thousand drones. 
LD: What is the learning curve on Drone Show Software? Does the designer need to have a working knowledge of how drones work or can a lighting designer play around with it and create a show?
AD: Any drone light show starts with animation, which can be exported to Drone Show Software to launch an event and then loaded onto drones. A drone show choreography designer can start a drone show business on his or her own or work as a part of drone show provider’s team. 
The learning curve on Drone Show Software starts with a training, which could be completed in Riga, Latvia or in digital formats. So far, we have trained over 250 professionals in 45+ countries who now form a global drone show community. 
Apart from basic software knowledge a person needs to take care of manpower and hardware. 
1.    A team. There should be at least one engineer responsible for working with the software and one drone specialist familiar with drone assembly and manual piloting. 
2.    A creative mind. Use your ideas and DSS to develop innovative choreography for your spectators. 
3.    A fleet. Probably the smallest show to start with would require 20 drones, most are compatible with Drone Show Software. 
LD: What kind of safety features are built in to the software?
 AD: Safety during preparation and while the show is running is a key feature of our software. At the moment, there are many levels of software and organizational protection.

It starts at the animation stage of the creation, the animator/designer constantly checks that the distances and speeds of the future show do not exceed recommended values, and the expected duration of the show is calculated. Next, our software offers the ability to rehearse the future show in simulation mode, practicing the actions of the main and backup operators. Immediately before the show, numerous pre-flight check functions allow the operator to ensure that he has done everything correctly and the fleet is ready to fly. For example, the operator loads geofencing to the drones: if the drone crosses the first line it must land, if it crosses the second line it must turn of the motors and make an emergency landing.  Control over the show is carried out by the main operator and a red button operator on two independent computers via two independent communication channels. The operator receives up-to-date information during the show and can land a single drone, or can stop the show and land all the drones at any time.

Operators must commit to following local regulations and taking weather conditions into account, and at least one dress rehearsal on site must be undertaken.  
LD: The QR code made up of drones in Shanghai this spring was very impressive. What other marketing efforts will we see?
 AD: Within the last few years drone shows have been actively used for branding purposes to market in the sky. SPH Engineering introduced its first ‘marketing in the sky’ solution back in 2018 and visualized its UgCS brand with 20 drones. That year, we also performed our first branding project for a foreign customer to support the launch of the Star of Bosphorus data center in Istanbul. 
Deutsche Telekom, the owner of T-Mobile, has turned to a 300-drone light show to help launch its 5G network in Germany and in the US, Walmart established a series of Christmas shows around the country. Earlier this year there was an interesting competition for the Guinness World Record by two Korean car manufacturers. Kia Motors unveiled a new logo and brand slogan with a record breaking drone light show becoming a new Guinness World Record holder for ‘Most unmanned aerial vehicles launching fireworks simultaneously’. Genesis, the Hyundai-owned car brand, marked its entrance into the Chinese market by breaking the Guinness World Record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles in the air at the same time, using 3,281 drones to display its logo.
LD: What capabilities can we expect in the future? 

 AD: The technology is rapidly growing and improving all the time, for example, adding firework components to create integrated shows. We will see a higher blinking frequency of the LED, giving the ability to orchestrate the color animation of the show more dynamically, and strobe effects or ultraviolet color. Imagine when a drone show is launched at some concert, and the audience will see their white clothes glowing!

LD: How do you think drones during live music concerts will evolve?

AD: I would say that in near future, drone shows could be an inevitable part of outdoor live concerts, art festivals and other events. There is definitely a business opportunity for indoor drone show activities, most of our clients have requested it. However, a prototype of the software to support such shows is still in the R & D stage. 

LD: Why did you decide to host a drone design competition? 

AD: Last year we initiated the First International Drone Show Choreography Competition to give an opportunity, firstly, to learn what is going on in the industry on a global level and, secondly, to introduce promising creators to drone show operators, as well as to inspire new minds to enter this field. The big idea behind it was to start building a community of like-minded people passionate about drones and modern art. 
Within a year we have observed a rapid growth of drone shows as an event form, thus, we decided to expand the concept and initiate the multidisciplinary contest of both animations and real performed drone shows. 

LD: How sustainable are drones?

AD: Drone technology is making an impact on a variety of sustainability challenges. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are actively used in projects to tackle climate change, maintain sustainable deliveries or farming, guarantee employee safety in hazardous or difficult to reach environments and many more applications. A drone as a device is itself sustainable: it has a long-term lifespan with opportunities to be repaired, its battery could be changed without any impact on the device and recycled  as any other battery.
We at SPH Engineering are always at the forefront to improve our software solutions to meet new market demands. For several years we have been working closely with Pergam  on the integration of methane detectors on different types of DJI drones for landfill monitoring and gas leak detection for industrial and consumer purposes. 
In addition, we introduced a technology to advance bathymetric surveying. A UAV drone equipped with an Echo Sounder can operate in hard to reach and unsafe locations as well as over water.
In terms of entertainment, particularly outdoor events, there is a trend towards replacing fireworks with drone shows. However, we still have a significant number of clients who opt for integrated shows rather than full replacements. Last year we released an update of DSS that enables the entertainment industry to use drones not only as a standalone performance perfectly synchronised to music, but also to integrate drone shows as a part of more complex outdoor happenings like concerts, laser and fountain shows or firework displays. Drones can enhance or replace show elements which can’t be used because of increased fire risks, noise or flashing hazard. 

Click here: to enter the Second International Drone Show Competition.  

The international judging panel consists of: 

  • Alexey Dobrovolskiy, SPH Engineering (Latvia);
  • Angelito Diaz Jadormeo, 2020 Competition winner (Philippines)
  • Helen Pukszta, Drone Arrival (USA)
  • Luke Carothers, Civil+Structural Engineer Media (USA)

Images:  NorthStar Fireworks (Canada) and Hireuavpro (USA) united fleets for the 4th July show in the town of Tusayan (Arizona). (c) NorthStar Fireworks