Drones swarming at Vivid

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Image: Twitter | @Intelanz

A swarm of flickering drones illuminated the skies over Sydney Harbour last night as part of the city’s Vivid festival.

The hundred-strong swarm was part of a display performed by technology company Intel, with the Sydney Youth Orchestra supporting the presentation with a live soundtrack.

It’s the first time in Australia’s history such a large number of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), commonly known as drones, have taken to the skies, requiring thorough safety considerations from the operators and event organisers.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) assisted Intel over the last three months, issuing the company with an Unmanned Operator’s Certificate and exemptions to fly at night following an extensive risk assessment.

‘Working with the Sydney Opera House and CASA has been amazing,’ said Natalie Cheung, Intel’s product manager for unmanned aerial vehicles.

‘Both were instrumental in the process. CASA really wanted to be a part of the future of drones and that’s why it has given us the exemption to let us fly Drone 100 next to one of the world’s most recognized structures,’ she said.

‘The big thing for us was that we wanted to fly right by the Sydney Opera House, and there are regulations with CASA on where drones can and cannot fly.’

‘We’ve been working closely with CASA over the last few months to make this happen and through that process we came up with the idea of having a barge as the launching and landing pad for the drones. So this is our first time ever flying from a barge. We have to test the signal of the drones and make sure they’re well calibrated and there are no interference issues,’ Cheung explained.

This is the first time 100 drones have been launched at the one time in Australia, let alone above water from a barge. Intel, the Sydney Opera House, and CASA had to work in partnership to ensure the regulatory requirements, including ensuring an 80m (262 feet) radius from the public, obtaining aviation clearance to fly up to 400 feet at the site for seven days leading up to the event and authorisation to fly at night, were all met in a safe manner

The CASA RPAS team assisted Intel in gaining approval for the display, providing advice on how the unique event could be performed safely.

‘This was cutting-edge project which CASA is proud to be part of,’ said Scott Duffy, Team Leader RPAS. ‘Intel presented what they wanted to do and were willing to go through the all the relevant safety process to make it happen,’ he said.

‘I think it’s an excellent idea of bringing together aviation and the arts, and it also shows that we as a regulator are open to approving a broad range of RPA operations; providing the operator can present a compelling safety case and risk assessment,’ he said.

Duffy said it’s exciting for CASA to be involved in such a fast-paced industry. ‘The technology and popularity of drones are evolving at such a rapid rate; this will only continue as people begin to grasp fully of just how important drone technology can be,’ he said.

Intel’s Drone 100 display is planned to take place each night with Sunday being the final display. More information about the event can be found via Intel’s Facebook page.

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