We’ve all seen drone displays—massive swarms of tiny drones, each carrying a light, that swarm together in carefully choreographed patterns to form giant (albeit very low resolution) 3D shapes in the sky at night. It’s cool, but it’s not particularly novel anymore, and without thousands of drones, the amount of detail that you can expect out of the display is not all that great.
CollMot Entertainment, a Hungarian company that puts on traditional drone shows, has been working on something a little bit different. Instead of using drones as pixels, they’ve developed a system that uses drones to generate an enormous screen in the sky, and then laser projectors draw on that screen to create “the largest 3D display you have ever seen.”
The video appears to show an array of drones carrying smoke generators, which collectively create a backdrop that can reflect laser light that’s projected from the ground. CollMot, based in Budapest, collaborated with German companies Phase 7 and LaserAnimation Sollinger to jointly develop the technology. They want to keep the details under wraps for now, but we got some additional information from Csilla Vitályos, head of business development at CollMot.
IEEE Spectrum: Can you describe what the “drone-laser technology” is and how the system operates?
Drone-laser technology is a special combination of our drone swarms and a ground based or aerial laser. The intelligent drone swarm creates a giant canvas in the air with uniquely controlled smoke machines and real-time active swarm control. The laser projects onto this special aerial smoke canvas, creating the largest 2D and 3D laser displays ever seen.
What exactly are we seeing in the video?
This video shows how much more we can visualize with such technology compared to individual light dots represented by standard drone shows. The footage was taken on one of our tests out in the field, producing shiny 3D laser images of around 50 to 150 meters in width up in the air.
Image: CollMot Entertainment
What are the technical specifications of the system?
We work with a drone fleet of 10 to 50 special intelligent drones to accomplish such a production, which can last for several minutes and can contain very detailed custom visuals. Creating a stable visual without proper technology and experience is very challenging as there are several environmental parameters that affect the results. We have put a lot of time and energy into our experiments lately to find the best solutions for such holographic-like aerial displays.
What is unique about this system, and what can it do that other drone display technologies can’t?
The most stunning difference compared to standard drone shows (what we actually also provide and also like a lot) is that while in usual drone light shows each drone is a single pixel on the sky, here we can visualize colorful lines and curves as well. A point is zero dimensional, a line is one dimensional. Try to draw something with a limited number of points and try to do the same with lines. You will experience the difference immediately.
Can you share anything else about the system?
At this point we would like to keep the drone-related technical details as part of our secret formula but we are more than happy to present our technology’s scope of application at events in the future.
[ CollMot ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.