If you’re looking to create something truly deserving of the words ‘wow’ and ‘factor’ for your next live event, you might want to consider the possibilities provided by drones.
The market for drones (outside of a military setting) for personal and commercial use has exploded in recent years with sales forecasts predicting sales of nearly 30 million units by 2021.
One of the fastest growth areas is in the commercial space (170,000 sales in 2017, up from 110,000 in 2016*) and the use of drones for LED ‘drone shows’ has become big business and widely adopted in the entertainment industry.
“Hundreds of drones are now used in permanent installations and touring shows, including cruise ships, corporate events and conventions, tours and theatre”
Recent high profile examples include the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in PyeongChang, at which Intel performed a choreographed light display using 1,218 drones to create various animations, including the Olympic rings.
Drones were also used to promote the release of Wonder Woman on DVD, lighting up the LA sky with various related imagery associates with the film.
But it’s not just large open outdoor spaces where drone shows are taking place, with musicians, theatre productions and even airports using drones to wow visitors with a barely believable performance more akin to special FX in a science fiction movie than reality.
To learn more, AVTE spoke to Markus Waibel, co-founder and the CEO of Verity Studios – one of the world’s leading providers of indoor drone shows – whose work has been seen by audiences across the world.
- Hi Markus. Tell me a little about the company
Verity brings robotics and AI to live events. It is a high-tech, VC-backed startup company. Its current team has around 40 people, including nine PhDs and more than a dozen Masters’ graduates from top universities including MIT, the University of Toronto, EPFL, Imperial College London, and ETH Zurich as well as former employees of GE Aviation, Cirque du Soleil, Samsung, HP, and Apple, with decades of work experience with autonomous unmanned aerial systems and mobile robots. It’s an unusual company in this market.
Talk us through the services you provide.
Today Verity is the world’s leading provider of indoor drone shows. These drones are tiny, which means that you can have a dozen of them swirl around a singer on stage or have a swarm of them fly out over your audience. Verity works with venues to install its system. Verity also works directly with show creators, from the creative concept phase all the way to show operation. Once the show package has been decided on, we will then travel to the client’s site to help set up the show and make sure everything is working perfectly. If desired, Verity provides show operators, but usually trains event staff directly – the drones are self-piloting and the system is easy to use. We are then on-hand to support with any issues the client may encounter.
“Last Christmas, a Verity drone swarm performed for more than 100 shows inside a major airport”What’s your target market(s)?
Verity’s clients have completed more than 25,000 drone flights to date. The drones have performed in more than 15 countries around the world. Hundreds of drones are now used in permanent installations and touring shows, including cruise ships, corporate events and conventions, tours, and theatre. Clients include production companies, show creators and the venues themselves.
Why would a company/organisation consider using drones for an event?
Indoor drones are brand new and the creative potential is vast. For venues, a resident drone show system is all about providing a key differentiator. For creatives, the appeal is providing a completely new, magical experience to audiences. Verity’s team has had fun working with clients in many markets to explore this new medium. Metallica is currently touring with a swarm of micro drones as is Switzerland’s national circus, where they replace the elephants – as you can imagine, the target audience and creative are quite different. Playing with the intimacy and tension created by the presence of even a single flying light on stage opens the door to many creative uses.
Talk us through some examples of your work
There are many. For example, cruise operators have found that Verity’s drones are a great match for their requirements to reliably create a visually stunning effect, even in smaller spaces, and two cruise lines have integrated drone shows into their ships and are running bi-weekly shows.
Conferences and conventions have also found many creative use cases for drones: Since their debut at the TED conference in 2016, Verity’s drones have performed at high-profile corporate events in some of the world’s most prestigious venues such as the National Centre of Performing Arts in Beijing or the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.
Touring shows are another proven market for Verity’s drones. For example, Metallica is currently on tour with a swarm of 99 of Verity’s Lucie micro drones. Verity drones also perform ahead of each Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.
In a theatrical setting, Cirque du Soleil operated Verity’s larger Stage Flyer drones on Broadway for a year throughout 400 shows and more than 7,000 autonomous flights, flying above performers on stage in front of up to 2,000 people per night, without safety nets.
On that note, how safe are they?
Each Stage Flyer show drone is fully redundant – it is capable of continuing operation in spite of a failed battery, a failed motor, a failed connector, a failed propeller, a failed sensor, or a failure of any other component. This is achieved through the duplication of critical components and the use of proprietary algorithms, which enable safe emergency responses to component failures.
Last Christmas, a Verity drone swarm performed for more than 100 shows inside a major airport, which speaks volumes.
What about costs?
The cost really depends on the individual setup. It’s influenced by the size of the flight space, the number of drones, the duration of the show, and creative requirements. Pricing starts at €70,000/$90,000.