Will Drone Light Shows Replace Firework Displays?


Mohit Kamboj

Fireworks have been around for millennia, and they have become an essential component of largescale celebrations around the world. Nearly every major American holiday involves fireworks, and plenty of people incorporate fireworks into their more intimate festivities as well, such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. What’s more, plenty of popular tourist destinations deploy fireworks every evening to bring visitors an extra dose of joy and wonder as they enjoy what could be once-in-a-lifetime vacations. Fireworks are important to all sorts of experiences — but could they be replaced by drones?

Spectacular light shows produced with drone technology have been making headlines at events around the world, to the extent that some anticipate drone shows to replace fireworks entirely in the near future. Yet, with fireworks such an entrenched component of celebration across cultures, do drones really stand a chance?

Advantages of Drones

Drone technology remains relatively new, which means it remains somewhat thrilling to see a drone buzzing about. It is even more fascinating to watch dozens or hundreds of illuminated drones “dance” through the air in perfect synchronization, recreating recognizable images and dazzling patterns. Because drone shows are not yet common, people often jump at the opportunity to witness one, during major holidays and events.

Beyond their novelty, drones do have some lasting advantages over fireworks. For one, drones are reusable, unlike fireworks, which literally explode upon their first and only use. Additionally, during that explosion, fireworks tend to expel particulate matter into the atmosphere, potentially decreasing air quality. Because drones do not explode, they can help keep air cleaner and safer for all. Finally, drones are close to silent, which means that domestic animals and wildlife are less likely to feel terrorized by drone light shows.

Together, all these benefits make drone displays a more environmentally friendly option than traditional fireworks, which is a noble pursuit. However, there is one undeniable problem with drones: their lack of legacy.

The Power of Fireworks

To most people around the world, fireworks are more than pretty explosions in the sky. Invented more than two thousand years ago by accident, fireworks have become incredibly important components of many cultural celebrations.

In the United States, for example, fireworks shows on 4th of July represent the explosions of cannon and gun fire during the American Revolution. Though drones can show floating flags, eagles and revolutionary soldiers, they cannot reproduce the shuddering bangs and sizzles that are so reminiscent of battle.

Other cultures interpret the undeniable power of fireworks in other ways. In both India and China, fireworks are used during important holidays not only to signify joy but also to chase away evil spirits and bad luck. People have long believed that the loud and brilliant bursts of light from fireworks will keep them safe and happy for the following year. It seems unlikely that these cultures will merely transfer these beliefs onto a new technology, especially one as outlandish as a drone.

Finally, drone light shows may be suitable replacements for massive commercial fireworks displays, but they are hardly a substitute for smaller consumer fireworks. Rare are opportunities for average people to get up close to explosive devices — for good reason. However, most consumer fireworks are relatively benign and promise extreme thrills for users. While consumers could purchase their own drones, they will not be able to produce the same light show effect with only one or two robots; in contrast, one or two consumer fireworks does guarantee a good deal of fun.

What the Future Holds

For now, drone light shows are often used in conjunction with fireworks to enhance the spectacle of major holidays and events. While many sustainability experts and futurists eagerly anticipate the complete substitution of drones for fireworks, the reality is that fireworks are likely to remain at least in some form for decades to come. Until drones or some other technology can produce the sense of awe and wonder that fireworks have for millennia, we should be able to look forward to the fireworks displays that make certain events feel particularly special.