Last week we wrote about Lady Gaga’s impressive Super Bowl performance, in which 300 drones created a light show to provide the backdrop for her performance, and later morphed from the Intel to the Pepsi logo.
Before that performance Intel had already set two Guinness world records with their drone swarms, first with a light show of 100 drones, then more recently, in November of 2016, with a swarm of 500 drones.
But both of those records were just blown out of the water by Chinese-based drone manufacturer Ehang. And it appears they might to have done so not because they want to go head-to-head with Intel in creating drone swarms, but to use the attention as leverage for announcing the launch of their taxi drones in Dubai this summer.
In a fifteen-minute long light show featuring a swarm of 1,000 quadcopter drones, eHang beat Intel’s world record for a drone swarm light show by double—double—the number of drones. Check out the video below to see the record-breaking show.
About the Record-Breaking Light Show
The Ehang quadcopter used to create the light show is called the Ghost Drone 2.0. During the light show they formed the Chinese character “福,” which means blessings; a map of China; and both the numbers 1,000 and 2017. The show took place to mark the end of the Lunar New Year.
The end of the Chinese new year, which takes place on the 15th day of the first lunar month (in 2017 this falls on February 11 on the Gregorian calendar), is typically celebrated with a lantern festival. This year, the southern city of Guangzhou decided to use drones in place of lanterns.
The drones took off from the square by Guangzhou Tower, operated by remote control. They flew as high as 120 meters during the show while the Yellow River Piano Concerto, which first premiered during Mao Zedong’s reign, played over loudspeakers.
You can watch the video to try and recreate the experience, but we can only imagine how marvelous the live show must have been, with all its pageantry, while 1,000 drones created various shapes in light in the night sky.
The specific Guinness world record that Ehang won with this light show is for Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne simultaneously.
Given the timing of the show, right on the heels of Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl, it seems reasonable to assume that Ehang wanted to ride on the buzz about drone swarms and achieve their world record at a time when it would give them the most attention across the globe.
After all, what a coincidence it would be if Ehang didn’t know about Lady Gaga’s performance before planning their record-breaking one.
Ehang and the Quadcopter Taxi
Ehang made major waves last year with an impressive announcement that they had developed a quadcopter drone called the 184 that was big enough to carry a person.
The 184 was first presented at CES last year. It’s a 440-pound quadcopter with an enclosed seating area for human passengers.
As reported at the time, the 184 can carry a person up to 10 miles, or up to 23 minutes, at speeds around 60 miles per hour, according to Ehang cofounder and chief marketing officer Derrick Xiong. And just like a small drone, it’s capable of flying at heights of up to 2.15 miles, though drone regulation would likely keep it at just several hundred feet.
But at $200,000-$300,000 each, the 184 seems pretty cost-prohibitive. Add to that the regulatory hurdles that will surely accompany any attempts to actually fly the 184 at all (let alone operate it commercially), and it might quickly seem like more of a neat idea than something that will actually be shaping the future of transportation.
Here’s a video of a flight test for the 184:
Just a few months back ago, in December, Ehang announced that it had already completed around 200 test flights in China, and that they were hard at work on a fully operational flight command center.
So What Does Ehang Make?
Drones, of course. But should we see this world record as a pivot for Ehang, or something else?
From an outside perspective, it seems like Ehang created this 1,000 drone swarm in order to get themselves into the drone lime light, and not to try and edge Intel out of the race to be the top drone swarm manufacturer—at least not outside of China.
One reason we say this is that there isn’t much information out there about the 1,000 drone swarm, even though it apparently happened three days ago. If Ehang wanted to leverage their record-breaking drone swarm performance to pivot into a new sector of the drone industry, they would have issued press releases and media—images and videos and more—about this new “swarm” application for their Ghost Drone 2.0 (as they have done in the past for the 184).
But they didn’t do anything like that. Instead, the story was broken by Russia Today, and news has slowly filtered through to us in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Nationalism could be one more reason for the motivation to break Intel’s world record. It’s no secret that the Chinese government backs many private companies in ways that wouldn’t be permitted in the U.S., and simply one-upping U.S.-based Intel, especially right after they had a big, public success at the Super Bowl, could be motivation enough to put together the swarm of 1,000 drones and break Intel’s record.
A telling aspect of this story is that, if you visit Ehang’s website right now, there is no mention of the world record anywhere in sight, not even on the Ghost Drone 2.0 page. Compare this to Intel’s drone-focused webpage, where their Shooting Star drone and related information on drone swarms are one of the very first things you see.
But the fact is that just yesterday, two days after breaking a world record with their drone swarm, Ehang announced that they would be launching their 184 taxi drone for actual use in Dubai in a matter of months, making it clear where their primary focus lies.
In such a loud space as the drone industry you have to do something to stand out, and it appears that breaking a world record might be Ehang’s ingenious way to have done this.
We can only wonder, what drone-related record will be broken next, and toward what end?