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Red, laser lights, and blue: Why some cities are replacing Fourth of July fireworks with drone shows

red white and blue drone rocket and illustration of a drone and helicopter
Image Credit: Drone Studios. Illustration by Nate Merrit

California-based company Drone Studios launched in 2016, launching its first drone show on downtown San Diego’s waterfront. Since, they've embarked on "bigger and badder drone shows," and increasingly, these shows are falling on America's Independence Day, and sometimes in lieu of fireworks.

In La Jolla, California, a seaside city within San Diego, which has gone without fireworks for the last five Fourths, Drone Studios is entertaining residents with its pixel light shows.

According to the company's founder and CEO, Jeff Stein, via CNN, the reason is multifold: “Drones are reusable, and with fireworks, you have smoke, other fallout like debris, the noise stresses out dogs and people with PTSD. There’s a lot of military in San Diego."

As La Jolla puts it on its site, drones can emulate fireworks without the environmental impact. For similar reasons, across the United States, other cities are hopping on the drone train.

As cities across the U.S. recover from the hazy, smoky skies caused by Canada’s wildfires, some are foregoing their usual fireworks displays and opting for safer and more environmentally friendly drone laser light shows.

drone fireworks
Image Credit: Drone Studios

From Salt Lake City, Utah to Boulder, Colorado, these wildfire-prone cities are joining La Jolla and hosting their first-ever drone shows, which according to Salt Lake City’s mayor, Erin Mendenhall, is an effort to combat the city’s high fire danger and to alleviate local air quality concerns which arise from traditional fireworks.

As he remarked in a news release, announcing the new entertainment, “As temperatures rise and fire danger increases, we must be conscientious of both our air quality and the potential for wildfires. The summer holiday shows are a mainstay for Salt Lakers and we’re excited about adapting to new technology which will provide a safe alternative for our residents and visitors.”

According to Mendenhall, the choreography, aerial acrobatics, and magic of the “captivating” drone show across the night sky will not disappoint.

Aside from the smoky air wafting into Utah from the U.S.’s northern neighbor, wildfires and the acrid air they leave behind are a norm in the state.

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah is “one of the most” wildfire-prone states in the country, with 800 to 1,000 wildfires in The Beehive State annually. This isn’t helped by fireworks, because as the department reports, nationally, more than 19,500 reported fires are started by fireworks annually.

In addition to the fires, for the states going drone, the issues fireworks cause for individuals like veterans with PTSD, and the pollution that results from the pyro light shows also helped fuel the decision.

In neighboring Colorado, the tale of wildfires is much of the same. Still, with the country’s love of fireworks — Americans set a new record for buying pyrotechnics, surpassing last year’s $2.3 billion record — the city of Boulder said the decision to switch was difficult.

“The shift from traditional fireworks to drones was not an easy decision and based on a number of factors, including increased fire danger fueled by climate change,” the city’s government wrote in a Facebook post. “While the show is going to be a bit different, it promises to be a fantastic show that aligns with our Sustainability, Equity, and Resilience Framework.”

person with fleet of drones on ground
Image Credit: Drone Studios

Other cities using drones or lasers in lieu of fireworks include Denton, Texas, Minneapolis, and communities across California like La Jolla, Lake Tahoe, and Ocean Beach.

Several other cities like Denver and its neighboring towns, are also adding drone shows to firework displays and while the number of cities making the full switch is small, increases in wildfires could further catalyze the trend.

With 300 drones flying across the Lake Tahoe skies, the city will be hosting the largest-ever drone show to take place in the city, and in La Jolla, the city expects the drones to exceed the spectacle provided by fireworks, showing that sustainability doesn’t mean a sacrifice for immersive entertainment.

Drone Studios will be using 100 drones for La Jolla's show, but the studio's displays can range from using a fleet of 25 to 5,000 drones. Their website boasts the ability to sync night sky animation with headlining musical performances, and even work with fireworks.

Plus, according to Stein via CNN, alone, the drones can simulate the familiar star-spangled pyrotechnics show, and take it a step further by telling aerial stories through motion graphics. “You can’t do that with fireworks.”

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