Call it a ‘drone shower’ or a technological failure, around 200 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) started falling on the spectators during a gala event in China recently.
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The anniversary celebrations of a supermarket in Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s Henan province, had gone horribly wrong when a swarm of civilian drones performing a lively display, making multiple formations in vibrant colors came plummeting down.
The incident took place on October 1. In a video posted online, both adults and children were seen panicking and running inside the Wanda Plaza shopping mall in Zhengzhou High-tech Zone with hands on their heads. People in the video were heard screaming “back off” and “be careful.”
A 20-year-old resident attending the show described the chaotic scene to VICE World News. “More and more drones came off. Some flew very far away, and some hit the trees.” According to him, staff members let people seek refuge inside the mall and later on picked up the drones from the ground.
So what exactly is a drone show and are these technical failures normal? Verge Aero describes drone light shows as performances by illuminated, synchronized, and choreographed groups of drones that arrange themselves into various aerial formations.
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Any image or text can be recreated in the sky using computer programs that turn graphics into flight commands and communicate it to the drones.
Drone shows have become increasingly popular in China and are commonly used as an effective marketing and promotional strategy by tourist destinations, government departments, and businesses.
— 吴文行wenxingwu (@wuwenhang) October 2, 2021
While no injuries or damages were reported by the supermarket in this incident, the glitch in the drone show is rather a concerning matter. According to local drone technology reporter Kanzhaji, the organizers suspect that the competitors had transmitted interference to overwhelm the navigation system of the drones.
Is It A Common Occurrence?
This is not the first time it rained drones from the sky. Similar incidents have been reported in Shanghai while the spectators were on a boat in June 2021.
Chongqing, a southwestern city of China, witnessed a group of drones crashing onto a building and falling off during a test run in January this year.
Another famous incident happened in May 2020 when 17 drones came crashing in the southwestern city of Chengdu during a celebratory holiday performance taking place.
Investigations by the police had later discovered that some employees of a participant drone company had caused the crash using drone jammers. The reason being the rejection they faced for their bid to carry out the performance.
The South China Morning Post in 2018 had reported that at least a damage of $127,500 occurred when unknown individuals had used jammer equipment on a drone light show in Hong Kong. A total of 46 drones came plummeting down over the Victoria Harbour.
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Reason For Technical Failures
Drone light shows are indeed a quintessential display of the convergence of art, science, and technology. It requires experts in the field of aviation, weather, drone dynamics, and regulation. Lack of expertise even in one area can lead to a ‘human error.’
Human error has on various occasions turned out to be intentional with people sabotaging these light shows using GPS Jamming technology.
A dazzling light show was staged with 1,000 drones in Tianjin, China to salute Chinese athletes in Tokyo #Olympics pic.twitter.com/Cz3twXb8kv
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) August 9, 2021
It has now become a trend or a competition between companies and organizations around the world to display the largest and fanciest drone light shows with the highest spectacle record.
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Currently, the Chinese firm Shenzhen Damoda Intelligent Control Technology Co., Ltd. holds the record of the highest number of drones sent in the sky. It entered the Guinness World Record on September 20 2020 by sending 3,051 UAVs to the sky to break the record for the most drones airborne simultaneously.
Prior to that, Intel held the record with 1,218 drones airborne in the 2018 Winter Olympics held at Pyeongchang.
- Safiya Khanam is a Muscat-based journalist with a deep interest in Geopolitics, Defense, and Foreign Affairs. She can be reached at [email protected]
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