Lights, Camera, Quadrotors!

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Arts managers are known for their cleverness when it comes to maximizing results from limited resources. Unfortunately, the same wherewithal is not always applied when approaching technology implementation. Arts managers must make the effort to understand new technologies as they emerge. This increases their chances of identifying technology with relevance to their arts organization.

Drone technology might seem out of reach to most cultural institutions. However, productions like A Midsummer Night's Dream at Texas A & M used drones onstage in 2009. Since then, drones have become much more cost effective. This suggests a potential for non-profit arts organizations to use drones in performance. The models used in Lady Gaga’s Superbowl halftime show are available on the consumer market. Why aren't technical directors at performing arts organizations using them?

Major opportunities exist for arts managers with basic understanding of drone technology. Read below to learn about the quadrotor, an arts-friendly drone model.

What is a quadrotor?

A quadrotor is a specific type of unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV). It is controlled by four rotors, each made up of a motor and propeller. Two propellers spin clockwise and two spin counter clockwise on each rotor. This design allows them to hover in the air with stability.

The quadrotor's design is like that of a helicopter, because it uses a motor and propeller combination to ascend into the air. Unlike a traditional helicopter, the quadrotor has four arms and no tail.

Quadrotors are also known as quadrotor helicopters or quadcoptors. They are controlled remotely, rather than by a pre-programmed computer. Quadrotors are distinct from other drones because they exist for recreational use. For this reason, quadrotors are the most relevant drone model to the arts. They are available on the consumer market, and often appear in mainstream entertainment.

Intel is the company largely responsible for popularization of drones. Below are examples of their drone technology used in entertainment. These examples are all found on the Intel website.

Quadrotors in Performance

Drone 100

Drone 100 is the name of Intel’s first successful drone performance. Intel worked on the project with Austrian researchers from Ars Electronica FutureLab. Their goal was to discover the collaborative potential of drones working with artists. The final product was Drone 100, where 100 drones performed above a live orchestra. The drones created a light show synchronized to the orchestra's music. In this sense, the drones and musicians were collaborating with each other. The performance set the Guinness book of world record for "most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying simultaneously". Intel eventually broke their own world record with a show featuring 500 drones.

Vivid Sydney Festival

Intel partnered with the Sydney Opera House in 2016 for another groundbreaking collaboration. A seven-minute performance featured Drone 100 and the Sydney Youth Orchestra in concert. This was the first public drone performance, and part of the Vivid Sydney Festival. The orchestra played Beethoven’s 5th symphony while quadrotors flew over the harbor. A single pilot controlled all 100 drones in a performance relating to the symphony.

Disney Starbright Holidays

Following the success of Drone 100, Intel partnered with Disney. Their collaboration resulted in a new holiday light show for the park. This show featured 300 choreographed quadrotors in the air. performing in the tradition of Disney’s typical firework displays. This performance demonstrated the potential for drones to replace traditional fireworks.

It is not necessary to become a drone expert, but it is beneficial to stay on top of the technology that could be applicable to arts organizations. This is especially important when the technology becomes available to consumers, because it usually leads to more inventive programming and creative problem solving. Continuing to meet the needs of a community over an extended period of time is a challenge for every organization. Technology can help.

Has your arts organization used a quadrotor before? Let us know in the comments section below.