It's Raining Drones - Display Of 1374 Breaks The Record
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Saturday, 05 May 2018

Luckily no humans were hurt, but according to Beijing News a few drones were. The South China Morning Post called it an epic fail, but I don't think I'd go that far. It is worth seeing both the official video and the one where it goes horribly wrong. It still took the Guiness World record.

Drones, it only seems like a short time ago that they were rare and wonderful things and enthusiasts struggled to control their toy, sorry model, helicopters - the toughest thing to fly in the model sky. I'd like to think that it was software that brought about the drone revolution, but it was probably the availability of low cost accurate gyros and accelerometers that really did it. If you throw in the fact that these only became cheap because of the smartphone then you could say that drones are another consequence of us all owning phones with a lot of computing power. OK, the software is important, but it needed the sensor data to stabilise the unstable.

Currently drones seem to have only a few uses - taking photos, giving people something to do and putting on light displays. Intel was the first big company to suggest that drones could be the firework display of the 21st century and until recently Intel held the record for drone formations. It flew 1,218 at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in February. The show was pre-recorded before being aired during the opening ceremony, due to freezing weather and strong winds. Drone formations are clearly not going to be as robust to weather conditions as a good old fashioned firework display..

Enter Ehang, a Guangzhou-based drone company already "famous" for working on a human lifting drone transport. It was offered 10.5 million yuan (about $1.6 million) to put on a Labour Day show over Xi’an’s 600-year-old city wall. The display lasted 13 minutes, covered a range of about 1km and used 1374 of its drones and so took the Guinness World Record.

First take a look first at the official video which shows everything working:


Now compare this to the video from Bejing News. Look out for the red circles that indicate where the display has started to go wrong. At first it is just drones out of position, but towards the end drones start falling out of the sky:


So far we have no information on what went wrong. Ehang has some software it uses to fly swarms of drones and put on such displays. It could be that the number of drones was just too much for the software or it could be hardware problems - how many radio channels do you need to control that many drones.

It would be interesting to know, but it does serve as a lesson that drones can be dangerous even when they are not flying too close to commercial aircraft.


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