300-strong drone show to light up NDP 2017

One of the seven drone formations at this year's NDP made up of 300 drones, which features an animated Merlin spouting water. It was first demonstrated to the public at the NDP National Education Show 3 on Saturday (July 15).ST VIDEO: LESTER HIO
Intel's Shooting Star drone - 300 of them will fly in seven different formations at this year's NDP, a first time for the parade.
Intel's Shooting Star drone - 300 of them will fly in seven different formations at this year's NDP, a first time for the parade. PHOTO: INTEL
Intel's Shooting Star drone - 300 of them will fly in seven different formations at this year's NDP, a first time for the parade.
Intel's Shooting Star drone - 300 of them will fly in seven different formations at this year's NDP, a first time for the parade. PHOTO: INTEL
Miss Natalie Cheung, Intel's general manager for drone light shows, holding up one of the Shooting Star drones.
Miss Natalie Cheung, Intel's general manager for drone light shows, holding up one of the Shooting Star drones.ST PHOTO: LESTER HIO

SINGAPORE - With just a click of a mouse, a swarm of drones will ascend to the sky during this year's National Day Parade (NDP), where they will perform a five-minute drone light show.

With 300 drones up in the air at the same time, it will be the first-ever unmanned drone show in NDP and the largest in South-east Asia.

They will form seven main formations during the fifth act at NDP: an arrow, a heart with a crescent and five stars, an outline of Singapore's island, the Merlion, children, the NDP 2017 logo and a hashtag.

In use will be Shooting Star drones developed and manufactured by American technology firm Intel. They were designed specifically for aerial formations and light shows made up of hundreds of drones flying together and flashing their lights.

"The intent of the drone show this year is to inspire Singaporeans to think about the immense opportunities the future brings. Act Five of the show, Progressing Together, charts our journey as one nation, one compassionate society. We hope the drone show will excite Singaporeans for the future ahead," said Colonel Tan Tiong Keat, chairman of the NDP 2017 Show and D3 Committee.

Safety was one of the reasons why the NDP committee opted for Intel's drones, which are made of lightweight plastic and foam.

"There are a few different safety features for the drone. There's a propeller cage, made of soft plastic. It's very light, at 330g, so there's very low impact energy," said Miss Natalie Cheung, Intel's general manager for drone light shows.

"There are also software safety features, such as a two-level geofence. What that means is if a drone were ever to move outside of its position or path, it will come back from the first geofence. If it hits the second one, the motor will shut off and the drone just drops," she added.

The drones will not hover over the audience during the show, but will perform over the waters at Marina Bay.

Each drone is equipped with built-in LED lighting that can create over four billion colour combinations. The drones can stay airborne for up to 20 minutes at any one time before their batteries deplete.

All 300 drones are controlled from a single computer, using specialised software that lets the NDP team create formations ahead of the show.

The software automatically calculates the number of drones needed, how each drone should be positioned relative to others and the fastest route from ground to sky needed for the formation.

Last year (2016), Intel demonstrated a light show consisting of 500 such drones flying together in formation. This year, the drones were put to commercial use in the United States, such as forming a light show during pop singer Lady Gaga's performance at the Super Bowl half-time show in February and lighting up the sky at the Coachella music festival.

To ensure audience safety, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has established the Marina Bay Floating Platform and surrounding areas as temporary restricted areas for aerial activities.

This prohibits aerial activities such as kite-flying, hoisting of captive balloons and flying of drones in those areas during NDP rehearsals, previews and the actual parade on Aug 9 unless authorised by the CAAS.

Singapore Armed Forces personnel will be deployed to conduct enforcement activities. The penalty is a fine of up to $20,000 for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $40,000 and/or jailed for up to 15 months.