How Does Drone Light Show Work

How Does Drone Light Show Work?

Have you ever watched the fascinating, jaw-dropping aerial patterns created through a drone light show?

Well, a high level of expertise, execution, coordination, and planning is required to create a breathtaking drone show. 

So, how does a drone light show work?

  • Drones are made
  • A team of designers creates a storyboard timeline with the required patterns or shapes.
  • This team uses specially designed software to translate the shapes and patterns into synchronized flight paths for individual drones.
  • A unique soundtrack may be created to go along with the show.
  • The effectiveness and safety of the light show are tested 
  • The operator then sends radio signals to the drone to start the show and monitors until it’s done.

This article will discuss how drone light shows work and their advantage over fireworks.

Dive in.

What Is a Drone Light Show?

A drone light show is an eye-catching, illuminated, choreographed, and excellently synchronized group of drones that form shapes or patterns in the sky.

A drone light show is performed at night by remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (AUVs) featuring LED lights.

So, a set of complex programs controls and directs hundreds of thousands of illuminated UAVs along a specific path to create eye-catching visual patterns in the sky.

A drone light show may be used to create anything, including logos and appreciation messages.

The Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Vijay Kumar, introduced the idea of drone shows in 2012 during a TED talk.

So, Verge Aero flew the first drone light show at the University of Pennsylvania to appreciate the medical staff and essential workers who selflessly saved many people’s lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the level of programming used to control the drones effectively, only 1 to 2 highly skilled pilots are required instead of hundreds of pilots who would have been needed to control hundreds or thousands of drones.

AI, programming, and 3D modeling are used to make drones coordinate and form the anticipated patterns successfully.

How Does Drone Light Show Work?

Drone Making - How Does Drone Light Show Work?

Before you see a swarm of drones in the sky creating jaw-dropping patterns, animations, or logos, much planning, testing, and synchronization is done.

So, several variables determine the successfulness of the drone light shows. These variables include drone weight and design and the algorithms determining the drone path to form various aerial patterns effectively.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more that takes place before a drone light show begins.

It’s time to learn how drone shows work, step by step.

Read on.

Drone Making

Drones used in light shows are designed differently from those used by professionals and hobbyists.

These drones are intended to be lightweight to make them agile and increase their flight time, making it possible to make the necessary maneuvers within the given time.

Though they may differ based on their quality, most do not have cameras. They only feature light batteries, LED lights, sensors, and GPS.


A team of programmers plans the required maneuvers to make the desired patterns in the sky.

Though initially, it could take months to create the maneuvers of hundreds of drones, currently, it can take days to weeks due to technological advancement.

The programming team uses 3D animation and algorithms during this stage. The programmers use a specially designed algorithm to design paths for individual drones.

Using a continuous process, the programmer unravels and sets up the best flight paths for the hundreds of drones.


The testing phase is vital as it confirms beforehand that the drones will take off, execute the intended choreography successfully without colliding, and land without hurting anyone.

To avoid drone collision during testing, programmers use virtual collision avoidance simulations. This is because the hundreds of drones involved attract a high cost, so huge losses would be incurred if a collision happened.

Also, to cut costs, real drones are not used during the testing phase; Drone show software is used to verify if everything is running smoothly and if any adjustments are required.

This software imitates the drone’s speed and size, making it perfect for checking the success and accuracy of the drone light show beforehand.

Also, in the testing phase, the customer(s) sees the show before it is launched. The client can see it from varying angles based on the technology involved in creating the drone light show.

If the client is impressed with the results, the program is locked to pave the way for production, and then the client is given a chance to see the light show again for final approval.

However, if, for example, there’s a collision during the testing phase, programmers return to the animation stage to make the necessary adjustments.

Determining the Deployment Site

Determining the Deployment Site

If, in the test phase, you’re delighted with the drone light show, the next thing to do is to decide on the best deployment place.

The FAA rules must apply here, so you need to know several things, for example, how far can the drone fly? And what the necessary safety measures are when flying the drone in public areas.

So, find a location with no crowds of people or obstacles, such as buildings and tall trees. Obstacles would make it easy for the drones to crash into one another.

The best is an open, flat place where people can easily view the drone light show from a distance for security purposes.

Synchronising Drones With Music

Drones are synchronized with music to keep the spectators entertained. Therefore, a software is used to make the intended drone patterns change according to the beats in the synchronized music.

The LED lights also change according to the music playing, making the show more captivating.

Pre-Flight Checks

Several devices are necessary during the launching of the light show, including a Wi-Fi router, a laptop, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) ground station.

The teams ensure that everything is working flawlessly before the launch.

Other pre-flight checks include:

  • Fully charging the drone batteries to ensure that they don’t become flat during the flight
  • The weather conditions are checked to ensure that it’s favorable to fly the drones
  • All drones are checked to ensure that none is faulty
  • Checking the state and local drone laws to ensure that you’re allowed to fly drones there

Launching the Drone Light Show

Launching the drone is the most exciting part of the light show.

Usually, about two pilots control the drones during the light show. In most cases, one pilot is on standby just in case the launching system fails; he manually controls the drones.

Software such as the DroneShow may be used to avoid drone collision during the action. Besides, this software is also beginner-friendly as it features a Geo-fence, which aids in keeping the drones within a certain perimeter.

Geo-fencing is a product of GPS technology, and it’s essential in that it prevents drones from colliding and causing accidents.

This is vital as it also may save lives if something goes wrong and the drone comes crashing down; it will stay within its defined perimeter. Hence, the spectators cannot be hurt even if several drones come down crashing.

Additionally, if something goes wrong and there is a need to land one or more drones, there’s an interface in place to ensure that the drones land successfully and safely.

Better said, as the spectators watch the breathtaking drone light shows, they’re entirely safe from drone crashes and injuries.

How Much Do Drone Light Shows Cost?

Drone light show cost may vary based on various factors, including:

The number of drones in use: The complexity of the drone show determines the number of drones to be used.

Less complex shows may need only about 10 drones, while complex shows may require hundreds or thousands of drones.

The more drones there are, the higher the light show cost. For instance, a show that requires only 20 to 50 drones will cost way less than one that requires 500 to 1000 drones.

The complexity: Besides the high number of drones required, more work goes into a complex drone light show, for example, planning.

So, while some shows cost only $ 10,000 to $ 300,000, others range from $ 150,000 to $ 1,000,000.

Other factors that could influence the cost of the light show include the number of spectators, the choreography, and the location the show is performed.

How Many Drones are Needed for a Show?

How Many Drones are Needed for a Show

The number of drones needed for a light show varies based on the following:

  • Audience size
  • Choreography
  • Available space
  • Budget

So, while some shows require only 10 drones, others may need hundreds or thousands.

A local show, for example, may need only 30 to 50 drones, while a hospital opening may need 1000 to 5000 drones, depending on the audience size.

Will Drones Replace Fireworks?

Will Drones Replace Fireworks

Drones have many advantages over fireworks, which is why it is possible to replace them. Some of the advantages of drone shows that make them a preference include.

They are:

  • Safer
  • Quiter
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Customizable
  • Cheaper
  • Reusable

Let me discuss each of these below.


Local and state authorities heavily regulate drones. Why? To boost safety.

So, altitude limits and flight restrictions are set to protect people, animals, and their properties from drone accidents.

Besides, during light show works, there is software that can help keep the drones within a certain perimeter to ensure all spectators are safe.

To mitigate potential drone crashes, drones may feature an advanced technology that helps assess real-time risk, enabling pilots to identify potential risks beforehand.

On the contrary, fireworks may cause death, fires, and burns.


Drones and fireworks can be noisy, but drones are much quieter. Another advantage is that drones fly 150 feet above ground level, making them much quieter.

So, people can still sleep when drone light shows are going on, unlike when fireworks are in progress.

In addition, since they’re quieter, people of all ages can be comfortable during a drone light show.

Fireworks could make children cry due to the sound of explosions, and older people could also get uncomfortable. This sound can be disturbing to pets too.

I have attended celebrations where there were fireworks. Trust me, those explosive sounds can be deafening.

Environmentally Friendly

Drones are considered more environmentally friendly because they only release a small amount of carbon dioxide.

On the contrary, fireworks can be highly toxic to the environment as they’re made of lithium, calcium, sodium, strontium, and barium.

Hence, when they explode, they combust, but some residues could be toxic to animals, people, and plants.

Also, after combustion, several gasses, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, are released and could cause global warming.


Fireworks and light shows are customizable. However, drone light shows are more customizable due to the following reasons:

They can be programmed: Drones are choreographed to create logos, rovers, globes, deers, baseballs, appreciation messages, and other complex but fascinating aerial patterns in the sky.

Artistic expression: Drones are more versatile, allowing pilots to be more creative by designing captivating aerial patterns. Not to mention, there’s room to use 3D to maximize creativity.

Fireworks limit the pilot’s creativity ability; hence, they cannot be used to convey some messages to the world.

Design Abilities: Using 3D, you can design anything to match the theme of your events or company.

So, dones are fitted with LED lights that help make your designs more real through a change of color. The drone maneuvers, which could also be synchronized with music, make the light show more realistic.

Cheaper: Based on the number of drones you need for a thriving drone light show, they could be incredibly cheaper compared to fireworks.

Fireworks, on the other hand, could be highly expensive based on the setup needed.

Besides, fireworks aren’t reusable, even though they are expensive. In contrast, you can reuse drones after a light show.

Once they land safely, drones can be used in hundreds and thousands of drone light shows.

What Are the Disadvantages of Drone Shows?

Despite the many advantages of drone light shows, they also have some cons.

  • Based on their quality, they may have a limited flight time.
  • They cannot be flown in unfavorable weather conditions like rain and strong wind.
  • Though they’re reusable, the initial cost may be high depending on the number of drones required and the complexity of the maneuvers.
  • Unlike the standard Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, these drones have a limited payload because they’re light.
  • The FAA and local and state laws must be followed to ensure everyone is safe.


Though drone light shows are a great thing to behold, it’s essential to know that once drones are manufactured, a lot goes into planning, testing, determining the best deployment site, and synchronizing the maneuvers with the music.

In addition, there have to be preflight checks before the launching of the drone light show.

The planning stage, however, is the most demanding and time-consuming phase. Technology, though, has advanced, and what could take many months to plan and implement may now take only a few weeks, based on the technicality involved.

What’s more? Drone light shows may not entirely replace fireworks, but they’re safer, quieter, environmentally friendly, cheaper, and highly customizable.

Though I have comprehensively discussed how drone light shows work, the future is more promising, and there could be rapid advancement soon.

Peter Karanja

Peter is a licensed drone pilot and drone fanatic. He owns a DJI Air 2S that he uses to shoot videos for fun, enjoyment and for clients.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *