Gadget Enthusiast

Turning The Skies Into A Stage: This S'pore Firm Invested US$150K To Use Drones For Performances

With the soaring popularity of companies like DJI making drone ownership accessible to all, drones are no longer exclusive to massive media companies with huge budgets.

These days, it’s more often than not that filmmakers and Youtubers include some form of drone footage in their work, whether it’s the aerial view of a sprawling forest or a densely-populated city.

While many of us are no stranger to the practice of using drones for video-recording purposes, drones have also been used on certain occasions for something very different – performances.

Needless to say, swarm drone technology is still rather niche, but one time that Singaporeans might have gotten acquainted with it is during Intel’s drone light show for the National Day Parade in 2017.

A performance drone company that many might not be familiar with, however, is SKY MAGIC, which wants to turn the skies into a stage with their LED-equipped drones.

They Bonded Over A Vision Of Performance Drones

SKY MAGIC’s founders

Founded by Zhao Weihua (Bob), Chiew Soon Hooi (Soon), Liu Jiandong (Jedan), and Hitomi Uematsu, they bonded over a deep interest in the potential of UAVs and swarm technology.

Bob and Soon are long-time friends who met during their PhD studies at Nanyang Technological University 10 years ago, where they were studying UAV formation and swarming respectively.

Even before starting up, Bob and Soon were already experts in UAV formation flight control, and represented NTU by leading an indoor drone show at Singapore Airshow 2014, where 12 custom-made drones were flown in various formations.

Jedan was Bob’s senior during his university days, and brings to the team 10 years of expertise in embedded system engineering from his experience at Huawei Technology and Shenzhen Wubantu Technology Ltd.

Hitomi, on the other hand, comes from a completely non-engineering background.

Having 8 years of digital marketing experience from digital ads and company Cyberagent, Inc. in Japan, Hitomi had a dream to bring advertising to the skies – literally.

Shared Hitomi in an email interview with us:

I’ve always delivered content on [digital] devices, but one day I thought, ‘Why don’t we use the sky itself as a new communication platform?’

Not wanting to waste any time, she immediately started looking to Japanese universities who did research on autonomous drone technology. However, her search fell short when she realised that none specialised in swarm technology.

Image Credit: SKY MAGIC

“However, I heard that there’s a research lab in Singapore [who does it] and so I came over to meet them,” she recalled.

There, she got acquainted with Bob, Soon, and Jedan.

“Then, they already completed drone shows and had their own customised drones [fitted with] LED.”

The LED under the drones

The four of them soon bonded over their common passion for swarm technology, and they started up SKY MAGIC in Singapore after pumping in an initial investment of US$150,000.

Launching With A Drone Show At Mt. Fuji

SKY MAGIC’s first live performance at Mt. Fuji, Japan

Their launch performance was in front of the beautiful Mt. Fuji, and was the result of a collaboration with the digital advertising agency that Hitomi worked at.

“People were impressed by [the] cutting edge technology and art! The launch video got lots of attention around the world,” she recalled.

Since then, they have done shows for the World Economic Forum, BMW, the Dubai World Cup, and even for Qatar’s National Day.

The world’s first drone ‘runway’ for the launch of the new BMW 5 Series

Just like many startups, however, they also underwent teething problems before perfecting their craft.

Explained Hitomi, “Drones are still considered dangerous when flying close to people, [so we needed to make sure] that all the hardware and software meet high safety standards.”

“We have actually undergone numerous flight tests and fine-tuning to get to where we are today.”

Currently, they have around 1,000 indoor and outdoor drones.

Preparing the drones for their show at the Dubai World Cup

Not just among clients, their unique application of drone technology also caught the attention of Google, who selected them as a finalist (among 10 others from the region) for Demo Day Asia recently held in Shanghai, following an open call for submissions.

As a quick background, Demo Day Asia is hosted by Google for Entrepreneurs with the aim of letting the region’s most outstanding startups pitch to regional and global investors and clinch funding.

Since 2014, startups from the past eight Demo Days have raised over US$279 million from investors, and startups in the Google for Entrepreneurs network have raised over US$1.8 billion in funding.

While the SKY MAGIC team didn’t win at Demo Day Asia this year, Hitomi shared that their future plans include doing more indoor and outdoor shows, and building the “next business scope with drone swarm and autonomous technology”.

“This industry is just beginning, and it will grow exponentially in the next few years.”

I’d like to thank Hitomi for her time!

 

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