Carlo Ratti says the sky’s the limit when it comes to drone light shows

Carlo Ratti Associati is working with Flyfire on a system that enables drone light shows of epic proportions. Tim Kridel catches up with the company’s founding partner Carlo Ratti on the current demand for drone light shows, as well as exploring future possibilities.

TK: How has the pandemic affected brands’ use of drones for advertising? For example, before the pandemic, drone light shows for advertising/promotions was a booming market. I’m wondering if there’s even more interest now because people are spending more time outdoors, whether it’s because of the return of concerts and sports, or simply wanting to be in fresh air. That would mean more people to see drone-enabled advertising.

 CR: Large gatherings have suffered all over the world during the pandemic, but I agree with you that we will soon see a rebound in outdoor drone activities, as our urban life gathers pace and returns to its full vibrancy! I am not a big fan of using large drones for transportation, but I believe that small drones hold a lot of promise.

TK: What types of brands are using drones for advertising/promotions? Feel free to cite examples involving your clients.

CR: Drone shows can accommodate a wide range of display tactics, which means they give companies a lot of creative freedom in their promotional campaign, regardless of their field. A recent example I can think of is the holiday-themed drone light show by Walmart last December, which used 1,000 drones to conjure up seasonal motifs in the sky. With the help of social media and streaming platforms, shows like this can be broadcast around the world in real time and achieve a spectacular marketing effect.

TK: When they’re comparing technologies for big, outdoor displays, what draws brands to drones over alternatives such as projection mapping?

CR: Well, when dealing with drones… the sky is the limit, literally! Projection mapping is always tied to a physical surface, while drones offer higher flexibility, allowing content to reach many miles and a wide audience. In addition, they are very easy to mobilise – you can take a fleet of devices out from your car and activate it in a short amount of time. This is an area we have been working on through the Flying Drone Blanket, a collaboration between CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and startup Flyfire. It allows multiple drones – up to 10,000 when scaled up – to be deployed at the same time, so that light shows and other outdoor events could be done easily and sleekly.

TK: How has content creation changed over the past few years? For example, is it getting easier in the sense that there’s a wider range of software and more people with the necessary skills? Or are there still some challenges? And what might be possible a few years from now?

CR: Content generation has become easier thanks to the tools that have been made available to creators. For instance, the advancements of software like Blender have allowed artists and animators to collaborate with each other through its open-source platforms, and thus give them a leg up in idea execution for light shows. Hardware is also evolving fast; here again, Flyfire is offering extra light drones under 250g which can be flown freely and easily. The ultimate goal for creators is to take full control of the technology, and not the other way round – and I think this is actually happening.


Photo shows the "flying drone blanket" developed by Carlo Rattti Associati (CRA) and drone company Flyfire.

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