China shows off drone brigade at Guangzhou Fortune Forum gala

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A legion of 1,180 drones displays "GZ" while hovering mid-air during a Fortune Global Forum welcome gala in Guangzhou Thursday evening. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

1,180 drones took part in a dazzling show Thursday evening in Guangzhou, part of a welcome gala for dignitaries attending the 2017 Fortune Global Forum being held in the capital city of China’s southern Guangdong province.

The impressive drone brigade, all manufactured in Guangzhou, smashed an earlier Guinness world record also set in the city when 1,000 drones performed in an orchestrated light show, Guangzhou Daily reports.

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A time-lapse photo showing the drone performance. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

What required to marshal these 1,180 drones, weighing a total of one ton, is a sheer solo act, accomplished by just one console and one operator, on a system developed by the city’s indigenous tech startup eHang.

A lighting design can be enciphered into respective positioning codes for the 1,180 drones deployed, each capable of adjusting positions simultaneously, and, should a drone lose sync with the rest of the group and is unable to ascend to the programmed height, it will return to the ground without obstructing others, as all drones are smart enough to communicate with one another and coordinate routes and positions.

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The drones perform in front of the Canton Tower. They are operated by one engineer on one console. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

Each of the drones are equipped with real time kinematic-grade sensors, a technique for enhancing the precision of position data derived from GPS, relying on a single reference station as well as an interpolated virtual station to provide corrections with up to centimetre-level accuracy. Positioning error of the entire drone battalion is said to be no more than 2 cm in latitude and 1 cm in longitude for each device.

What the operator has to do is no more than inputting the desired pattern and hitting the launch button. He can then sit back and watch the sci-fi blockbuster-like spectacle as more than a thousand glinting drones take flight at the same time.

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The impressive drone flyover of the Guangzhou CBD is the centrepiece of a Fortune Global Forum gala. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Former US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma and other Fortune 500 executives were among the audience awed by the drone legion performance, against Guangzhou’s glittering skyline and the city’s iconic Canton Tower.

All drones can talk to each other and coordinate routes and positions, even before taking off. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

All drones can talk to each other and coordinate routes and positions, even before taking off. Photo: Guangzhou Daily

The technologies behind the monumental drone show won’t be limited to performances only.

In June, state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corp. had already unveiled its drone attack groups, hinting they can take on much larger conventional combat entities like warships and even an aircraft carrier.

Last month the Yunying, a new model of stealth combat drone about the size of a helicopter and developed by Aviation Industry Corp. of China, made its international debut at the Dubai Airshow.

A Yunying drone on display. Photo: People's Daily

A Yunying combat drone on display at the Dubai Airshow. Photo: People’s Daily

With normal takeoff weight rumored to be 3 tons, all Yunying drones can ascend higher and beyond the reach of most surface-to-air missiles thanks to powerful, turbo engines, and may coordinate with each other in combat through data links to enable others, including the reconnaissance attack version, to attack the targets they find.

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