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Drone light show tech still at ‘Game Boy’ level, says pioneer

written by Adam Thorn | March 10, 2022

To learn more about drone light shows, check out the latest edition of the Australian Aviation magazine.

The man behind Melbourne and Adelaide’s stunning drone light shows has told Australian Aviation the tech is still at the tip of the iceberg as to what’s possible.

Celestial’s Tony Martin said, “Right now, we’re the handheld Game Boy with black and white colours and 8-bit graphics. But where we’ll end up is a PlayStation 5 with not just high-resolution graphics and better pixel density, but different materials.”

Martin is one of the world’s leading pioneers for the innovative performances and rose to prominence after curating a special display for Scotland during the pandemic in 2020. 

He was speaking exclusively to the Australian Aviation print magazine, out now. To find out more and subscribe, click here.

The shows performed in the Victorian capital featured 350 drones, lasted eight minutes and were held twice nightly on Melbourne’s Harbour Esplanade.

It came weeks after Sydney held its own show created by Celestial’s most prominent international rivals, Intel.

Martin is adamant that what we’re now seeing is just the start of what the technology can do.

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“I can’t give too much away,” he said, “But there are certain things we want to do in the live sphere. We want to control the drone and not just do pre-animation.

“And we’ve figured out how to do that, but we just need a specific upgrade to our hardware to achieve that at scale.

“The technology will evolve, and we’re also looking at everything from heavy-lift to nano-drones and different ways of putting light in the sky.

“We’ve got an awful lot of stuff that no one will have ever seen before.”

The Melbourne show was delayed because it couldn’t get regulatory sign-off in time, and Martin said CASA must adjust its processes to recognise the difference between “piloting” drone swarms and individual drones.

“Drone swarms have as much to do with flying a single drone, or manned aeroplane, as they have to do with driving a steam engine,” he said. “They’re not the same thing.

“No one is flying those drones; the drones are flying themselves. We’re monitoring complex systems and intervening, looking at safety. And CASA doesn’t quite understand that. The person flying the drone needs to be a system engineer.

“They need to know about networks, software, Wi-Fi, and satellite communications. CASA needs to engage with companies like ours, and we want to help them create the framework that will allow this sector to bloom. Because right now, it’s a huge inhibitor.”

Last week, Australian Aviation reported how Celestial would bring a new drone light show to Adelaide every evening between 7-30 March over Leconfield and Richard Hamilton Wines in McLaren Vale.

The display includes more than 350 drones and encompasses First Nations artwork, Australian icons, spoken poetry and a custom commissioned soundscape.

It also includes narration by First Nations singer-songwriter Archie Roach and music by acts such as Electric Fields, Kev Carmody and Nancy Bates.

The Australian Aviation print magazine features interviews with the teams behind Sydney and Melbourne’s shows, as well as the global chief of Intel.

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