Drones are increasingly being used as a replacement for fireworks. Drones cause less pollution, and the fact that they’re re-usable means there’s less waste. They are also kinder to the environment, less likely to scare animals and above all, much more creative given their programmable nature. However there’s a downside.
The Wine & Dine 2018 festival in Hong Kong saw two performances on the 1st and 2nd of November that were executed without incident. 100 or so drones flew in tandem for seven minutes over Victoria Harbor while tens of thousands of onlookers at the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival watched in awe. The devices, fitted with LEDs, swarmed to create bottles, flutes of champagne, a huge cake and the number 10 to mark the tenth anniversary of the event. However, the session on Saturday, November 3rd didn’t go quite so well. Minutes after takeoff, the drone swarm began to break apart (1 minute 55 seconds onwards in the video below).
Forty-six of the drones slowly and randomly descended, before falling for the most part in the water before puzzled onlookers and event organizers. No injuries were reported but according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board the financial loss could be as much as $125,000 dollars.
Initially, the Hong Kong Tourism Board believed it to be the work of hackers who would had surreptitiously corrupted the program of the computer that coordinates drones. The following police investigation dismissed this hypothesis. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the most plausible cause was the disruption of the GPS signal from “outside sources”. In short, an act of deliberate sabotage via electronic means. GPS scrambling systems are relatively easy to buy online.
However, some experts have doubts about the possibility of deliberate interference via electronic means, highlighting the fact that contact had been lost only with some and not all of the drones. Others claim that the GPS signal was weak in some parts of Victoria Harbor and that the presence of thousands of spectators, and therefore connected devices, could have also potentially disrupted the show.
Whatever the origin of this collective failure, such an incident sadly raises questions about the safety and vaibility of drones as a replacement for traditional fireworks.