Arsenic, aluminum, and iron dust powder are all ingredients for some of the most spectacular displays of entertainment: fireworks. In a theme park as treasured as Magic Kingdom in Disney World, their daily 18-minute fireworks show, Happily Ever After, has some not so happy endings when it comes to environmental and public health. Disney’s firm goals of sustainability of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the planet are notable. Disney can also start to create new, greener traditions, and transition to alternatives from fireworks: drone shows.
Similarly modifying traditions, the City of Turin, Italy, replaced its fireworks display with a drone show in its annual patron Festa di San Giovanni in 2018. The drones made an appearance again this June, only in conjunction with lasers, water fountain projections, and a crowd of around 20,000 people. Turin shows us that drones have the storytelling, awe-inspiring quality that fireworks have conveyed for centuries, and are worthy of being associated with major events.
Drones are an innovative solution that incorporate the eco-conscious citizen audience, and open a new realm of technological research. The drone show takes place during TechStars Startup Week, furthering ideals of social innovation, citizen participation, and partnership between private and public spheres.
Disney is no stranger to drone shows, in particular, Intel’s Shooting Star drones. They have used this technology to create a unique holiday spectacle that ran for eight weeks in Disney Springs in 2016. Shooting Stars, described as “digital fireworks,” are lightweight at 280 grams, made from Styrofoam and plastic, and fitted with an LED payload that flashes red, green, blue, and white to create an almost limitless display of colors. The universal nature of these drones has led to performances at Coachella, PyeongChang’s Winter Olympics, and the Super Bowl halftime show.
The main advantage of using drone shows instead of fireworks is that they are reusable and adaptable. Fireworks, in contrast, will always be wasteful because they are single-use, and born from gunpowder. They can aggravate vulnerable ecosystems by releasing air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
Furthermore, there were almost 10,000 fireworks-related injuries treated in emergency departments in 2018, the biggest group being children aged 10-14. Fireworks also create frightening conditions for pets, that induce stress and anxiety during many holiday events surrounded by fireworks.
Drones are not perfect. When hundreds of drones are flown together, they create loud buzzing noises that need amplified music to overcome the sound. Perhaps the most significant problem with drones is that they can only perform if weather permits; high winds and stormy conditions provide unsafe conditions that ground the drones. The original creation of a drone show can cost in excess of $100,000, as mentioned by Intel Vice President and General Manager, Anil Nanduri.
Drone technology is only improving, and with features like emergency shutdown systems, waterproof propellers, and protective geofences, acceptance and use will grow. They have the potential to choreograph unique patterns and symbols through GPS that firework displays lack. Disney has been estimated to spend around $41,000 and $55,000 each night on its daily fireworks show, spending almost $20 million annually.
While drones may be a costly investment at first, they are more reliable long-term, like an energy-efficient lightbulb. I suggest that fireworks do not have to be completely eliminated, but a more conscious consideration of their use is vital. Immersive and magical experiences are still capable with drones and can actually reinforce and strengthen tradition, as seen in Turin. Children that travel from across the country can still be surrounded by Disney’s nostalgic characters, stories, and architecture and behold a new type of paintbrush illuminating the night’s canvas.
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