Could LED Drones Replace your Fourth of July Fireworks?

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On America's first Fourth of July celebration in 1777, fireworks were one color: orange. There were no elaborate sparkles, no red, white, and blue stars -- nothing more than a few glorified (although uplifting) explosions in the sky. As it turns out, although we've been lighting fireworks for the last 2000 years or so, modern fireworks were only invented in the 1830s and even still had quite a way to go before becoming what we know today. 


The Problem with Fireworks 

Fireworks on the 4th are a way to represent our freedom and unity as a country, but this patriotism and spectacle isn’t always well-liked. According to a recent study, 1 in 5 Americans dislike fireworks 

Parents of young children, elderly people, early risers, and pet owners are among the highest percentage of people who don’t like fireworks, typically because of how loud they get and the fact that they’re usually set off later in the evening. Additionally, the number of injured and killed from fireworks is ever rising with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reporting eight deaths and an estimated 9,700 injuries involving fireworks just this year. The report shows that between 2008 and 2023, injuries from fireworks have increased overall, despite recent data showing a steady decline since the peak in 2020 during the pandemic when public displays were canceled. 

While over the years, fireworks have become less popular, there have been efforts to lower the environmental issues of these explosives as well, though not much can really be done. Gunpowder, heavy metals, and other poisons such as Cadmium (a proven human carcinogen) are mixed to create the brilliant display of color that we see in fireworks. These chemicals and metals find their way into the water cycle.  

Poisonous gases from fireworks can linger in the air and water for years, as the cycle of condensation and rainfall continues, but even the short-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with cardiovascular and respiratory failure. Regardless of the changes made to the chemical makeup of fireworks over the years, they will always contribute to air, water, and noise pollution.    


The LED Solution 

Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, have evolved from humble beginnings to becoming the backbone of many new technologies. At Sunco, while we specialize in LED when it comes to lighting, today's LEDs are used for so much more.   

As technology progressed, improvements in semiconductor materials made LEDs more suitable for advanced applications. This growth paved the way for their integration into screen displays and drone technology, where their compact size, energy efficiency, and versatility enabled the creation of mesmerizing aerial light shows, which we have seen on the rise in place of traditional fireworks. 

Modern drone displays utilize thousands of synchronized LEDs to choreograph intricate patterns and animations in the night sky. They are far less intrusive than the standard fireworks display, and the precision control of each LED has brought audiences a new way to experience art and celebration.  

The Impact of LED Drone Displays 

It isn’t uncommon anymore to see communities trying out drone shows instead of fireworks. These drone displays are super cool—they're like a choreographed dance in the sky, but they're also better for the planet. As technology keeps getting better, you'll probably see more of these drone shows at celebrations, blending old traditions with new ideas and making sure we celebrate responsibly. 

How Much Does a Drone Light Show Cost? 

According to Drone Stories, a company specializing in drone light shows, your average drone costs around $500 and the number of drones you would need could vary from 50 to 200 or possibly more depending on the grandeur of the display. 

Say you want to create a captivating show for this upcoming fourth of July. If you want to go all out, you’ll invest in about 200 drones to create spectacular creations. So, the initial cost of the technology will run you about $100K. Next, you have to find a location for your light show and determine how long you want it to run. The standard drone battery lasts about 20 minutes, but most fireworks displays and drone shows don’t run longer than 10 minutes.  

You then will need to plan what your show will look like. You can’t just toss a bunch of drones up into the sky and fly them around randomly. I mean, you can, but it probably won’t look very good. Your next move is to hire a drone choreographing company or software for your show. There are lots of pre-choreographed flight paths that you could purchase and download, but a custom flight path will cost you more money. Additionally, many shows need to be simulated beforehand in a 3D animation software like Blender or Verge Aero, so factor in the price of that software.  

At the end of the day, if you factor in the cost of the drones, the software, the drone pilots, and the location, you’re looking anywhere between $90K and $200K for something grand, though you’re more likely to find this price for a show at Disney World or Universal. For something more humble, you can expect it to cost between $2K-$20K for something much smaller. While this process can add up very quickly, you can consider, however, that each drone can be reprogrammed year after year and event after event, cutting costs in the long run.  

What Makes a Drone Show Environmentally Friendly? 

With drone light shows, there is no risk of fires, they're less disruptive for animals who are often scared by the noise fireworks make and they don't release chemicals that can pollute the soil, water, and air. They can also be used for hundreds of displays before needing replacing, hence why they are being branded as 'eco-friendly fireworks'.

Why Do Brands and Event Organizers Like Drone Displays? 

Event staff has much more control over drone light shows because drones can create imagery relevant to a particular song, event, or brand. They also operate almost silently, so any music won't be drowned out by the noise of fireworks. For people with young families who might want to attend concerts or outdoor events, the sound of fireworks is often frightening for children and could cause distress and in some cases, ear issues 

Are There Any Disadvantages to Drone Shows? 

The main one I’ve seen is the expensive cost. You can't easily host a drone light show in your backyard (unless you're a multi-millionaire). Additionally, drones need a specialized team to program and fly them, so they're not very spontaneous. Putting on a professional drone show takes approximately 6-8 weeks from show conceptualization to launch. Drones are also reliant on a battery which can be affected by cold temperatures. Standard drone batteries last between 15-30 minutes so extra drones may need to be used for longer shows, like say, something you’d see Disney put on.   

So, while you're likely to continue seeing fireworks shows at your local church, school, or park, drone shows seem to be popping up more often on a larger scale. No, they probably won’t replace your backyard firecrackers, but who knows? With the way that technology is advancing, you might be surprised at what LEDs can do.  

1 comment

  • Posted on by Shannon B.
    i love a good drone show! Definitely better for my mom. She goes to bed at 7:30 and this year, the firworks did not stop until well after 10PM!! Shes mad about it, even a week later! Love your stuff

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