President-elect Joe Biden looked a little surprised when his Saturday night fireworks show was suddenly interrupted by some additional sky art spelling out his name, the number 46, and then a map of the country.
The secret behind the magic? A choreographed drone swarm, much like the ones pioneered by Intel and used to light up everything from Coachella to the Super Bowl half-time show. The Biden display even prompted Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler to quip: “When does Lady Gaga parachute in?”
Expect to see a lot more drones in the sky in coming years. The pandemic has accelerated a variety of experiments and commercials trial to use drones for deliveries, crop monitoring, firefighting, and a thousand more jobs beyond wowing us by spelling out presidents’ names with LED lights. Industry leader DJI, flocks of startups, and tech giants like Google and Amazon are all working on perfecting the flight hardware, sensors, and software.
Plenty of new gadgets flow through Fortune’s suburban Boston bureau, from 5G phones to 5G laptops, mostly supplied as review units by the manufacturers or wireless carriers. The occasional item is bought and paid for by our household, including the recent purchase of DJI’s new Mini 2 drone (much to my wife Whitney’s dismay, as she takes a strict line against such self-purchases so close to the holiday gift-giving season).
But I have to tell you, the capabilities packed into this tiny 249 gram (8.8 ounce) drone are remarkable. It can fly for more than half an hour on one battery charge and travel a distance of up to six miles from where it takes off. The camera takes decent photos and more impressive 4K videos. And the whole thing folds up small enough to fit in the palm of my hand or the pocket of my jacket. The propellers can be pretty buzzy (just ask Whitney), so I’ll try not to annoy the neighbors. But it’s quite a thrill getting a bird’s eye view of the world and some fantastic opportunities for photography:
With such technical marvels, drones for business should keep their momentum too. The outgoing Trump administration worked hard and orderly under Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to expand the playing field for drones while keeping an eye on safety and security. Not every move was on target—rules requiring constant Internet connections may be too much, for example. But the incoming Biden administration would do well to follow a similar flight path.