Drone light shows are becoming more and more popular — which means so is the market for light show drones.
Not long ago, the ability to put on a drone light show was largely limited to companies with robust hardware building capabilities, like Intel. In fact, technology giant Intel was one of the first major companies to put on drone light shows, thanks to its ability to make its own light show drones called the Intel Shooting Star. The other big player in the early years of drone light shows was Ehang, which has had its hands in all aspects of drone hardware, ranging from the consumer-focused GhostDrone to passenger-carrying drones. Ehang also has put on its own drone light shows, and it long went back and forth with Intel on who held the world record for largest drone light show.
But in 2023, a new world record was set for the largest drone light show. That went to Sky Elements, which on July Fourth weekend put 1,002 drones in the sky for a show which took place over North Richland Hills, Texas. But unlike companies like Intel, Sky Elements doesn’t make its own drones. Sky Elements uses drones from Korean drone maker UVify.
Sure, there are certain companies out there that both make the hardware and put together shows. But these days if you commission a drone light show, it’s more likely you’ll work with an entertainment company like Sky Elements, whose job is to design the animations and execute the show. From there, companies like Sky Elements rely on drones made by companies with expertise in hardware to actually make the LED-carrying drones.
And interestingly, many of the companies that make hardware and put on shows also sell the hardware they make for themselves, opening the door for more small businesses to put on their own drone light shows. By eliminating the proprietary element, it’s becoming easier for entrepreneurs to get into the drone light show industry — which means drone light shows will only become more common.
Luckily, more players are coming into the space, and costs are getting lower and lower. That’s critical in making such shows more mainstream, given that one of the biggest factors in a drone light show cost is simply the capital needed to buy all those light show drones in the first place.
So what are the best light show drones? Here’s a list of the big players you need to know, in alphabetical order:
Firefly Drone Systems: Firefly Gen2 drone
Firefly is best known for its Firefly Gen2 drone, which the company sells as part of a turn-key drone show solution.
Designed with drone light shows in mind, it has a heated triple IMU system, which is critical for reliable operations during shows, as well as a bright rgb LED. The drone uses a Gen2 Smart Battery which offers 25 minutes of flight time.
When you purchase a set of Firefly Gen2 drones, you get the hardware itself, as well as a variety of software to execute the shows. That includes a studio app where you can either use Firefly’s pre-designed drone show animations or upload your own, as well as a pilot app so you can easily operate a drone show. You also receive pilot and crew training.
Firefly is based in Detroit, Michigan, which makes it an ideal pick for businesses looking to support other American drone companies.
ShadowVu, which has its roots in the United Kingdom, is a new, lesser-known player in the drone hardware space. It had been making military drones, including the FW1-M and QC1-M.
And in September 2023, the company teased a new product it’s making, the QC1-D, which is designed specifically for drone shows. Because the company is still in the design phase with its light show drones, details are scant. That said, the company says it will incorporate many of the same tech as you’ll already find in its military drones, adding that it will sell =light show drones “at a more reasonable price than its competitors.”
UVify: IFO drone
UVify is a South Korean drone maker with headquarters in San Francisco, California. The company makes a range of drone types, including the $200 UVify OOri Smart Racing Micro Drone. But for light show entrepreneurs, the UVify product to know is the IFO drone light show drone.
UVify’s best-known client is Sky Elements, which has put on everything from massive, world-record breaking shows to delightful, custom shows for the parties of individual people (albeit rich people), like Serena Williams’ gender reveal party. Sky Elements holds a special place in our hearts for its Star Wars show, which is the first one that Sally French, The Drone Girl, saw in person.
Prices for UVify’s drones can vary, but they currently sell online for about $2,000 each. At that price, the single Star Wars drone show featuring 500 drones would have featured $1 million worth of drones in the sky at one time.
Verge Aero is another American drone company, this one based in Dallas, Texas.
In October 2023, it debuted a new and improved version of its light show drone called the Verge Aero X7 drone. Among the upgrades from the old model include more compact storage for easier transportation, faster battery charging, longer battery life, more precise GPS capabilities, bolstered wind and rain resistance, and user-friendly enhancements to the integrated control software.
Purchase of the drones also comes with fully-integrated, user-friendly software for drone show design and management. That software consists of three components, which are:
- Verge Aero Design Studio: for designing shows
- Verge Aero Flight Control Hub: the control center for the flight planning for a user’s fleet
- Verge Aero’s Skystream app: delivers branding opportunities for operators and can send synchronized audio to spectators’ devices.
Verge wouldn’t share how much the drones cost, only saying they come at “the most competitive prices on the market.”
“Verge Aero drones are made to purchase as part of a full drone fleet, and can’t be tested or purchased on their own,” company spokesperson Matt Pedretti said.
That said, if you already own previous Verge drones, you won’t have to completely overhaul your old fleet. The new Verge Aero X7 can integrate with any other X1 drone fleets you have.
“Verge Aero’s mission is to make drone shows ubiquitous. With our user-friendly show design and management software, Verge Aero drones give operators a complete end-to-end solution at a price point that can enable mass adoption of this exciting, new technology,” said Nils Thorjussen, CEO of Verge Aero, adding that his goal is to “democratize the drone show industry.”