By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

Drones have made monumental advancements in transportation, recreation, and now in fireworks, if you can believe it.

Fireworks are used in a celebratory fashion, mainly to commemorate a holiday or festive occasion. Since their invention in China in the 7th century, few companies have been trained to conduct safe fireworks displays; in fact, it’s a short list of companies in the U.S. that can create regional special displays.

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Drones for New Year’s Eve Displays

This year, Shanghai, China’s largest city, used drones to ring in the Chinese New Year. “Nearly 2,000 drones flew for over an hour, creating giant spheres, text, and even a figure of a man that appeared to run across the skyline.” Fast forward to early November 2020, and a mix of fireworks and drones were used to celebrate President-Elect Joe Biden’s election win. The collection of drones spelled out USA and outlined Biden’s logo in the sky.

Will Drones Replace Traditional Firework Displays?

Does this mean that drones will replace fireworks? Environmentalists may tout the following reasons to decrease the use of fireworks. According to an article in Forbes, fireworks have a slew of environmental issues:

  • They terrify birds and wildlife as well as pets.
  • They add toxic chemical pollutants to the air, water and land.
  • They litter the landscape with spent plastic shell casings.
  • They create inescapable explosions that can trigger terror in veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • They increase the risk of fires.
  • In rare cases of improper use, they can permanently damage one’s hearing and cause loss of body parts.

I’ve witnessed loved ones who were injured from fireworks because of improper use. A friend lost her vision in her right eye due to a malfunctioning firecracker. So public drone displays may be a safer option to fireworks.

Reimagining a replacement for fireworks takes a lot of IT management. Drones must be spatially correct to create popular intricate designs. This means computer programmers must use both IT skills and GPS monitors to operate a fleet of drones, as opposed to having an individual drone pilot operate each one separately. Most drones carry a battery pack, since solar panels are of little use after sunset.

Drones Are Multifunctional

The possibilities of drones are varied. They have been used in disaster relief operations to go into areas where people cannot, which includes traversing roads covered in debris. Infrared radiation monitors on drones can help detect heat sources under the rubble of collapsed buildings to find and save lives. Medicine can be transported in minutes as opposed to days. The U.S. Postal Service can use drones when conditions do not warrant vehicles traveling into treacherous terrain.

In Christiansburg, Virginia, residents who sign up can get drone delivery from locally owned businesses, a national pharmacy and FedEx. The service is a pilot project by Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s drone delivery business Wing, which is operating similar projects in Finland and Australia.

As with other autonomous delivery services, Wing has seen a major uptick in interest amid the coronavirus pandemic, as emergency regulations keep people at home and complicate shopping tasks.

During the pandemic drones also have been used as a creative way to deliver library books in a socially distant manner. In addition, this tactic keeps libraries functioning for those who prefer a hard copy of a book as opposed to an electronic version.

Drones Have Their Limitations

Weather is the biggest factor with drones, regardless of their use. Winds in excess of 20 mph can derail flights and low temperatures can cause icing and possibly permanently damage drones. Precipitation can also permanently damage their electronic systems.

Drone use, while exciting, is still limited at best. They can be equipped with cameras but most operators must be within a few dozen feet of the drone.

That means true automation will require future innovation and research. However, the possibilities are endless as to how drones will further shape our world in terms of transportation, recreation, and now firework displays.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has over 25 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.