Document-breaking drone present over Xi’an turns into spectacular failure

While everything went perfectly in rehearsal, when it came time for the real deal, the drones got a little lost

In a rehearsal for a May Day holiday performance, a Chinese drone-maker recently set a new Guinness World Record in a spectacular show that featured more than a thousand drones forming intricate patterns in the night sky above the city of Xi’an.

However, when it came time for the actual performance, things didn’t go quite so well.

On April 29th, 1,374 Ehang Egret drones took off at the same time over the ancient Xi’an city wall, forming an illuminated “sky curtain” that stretched out over 1,200 meters, hovering 260 meters in the air. In a carefully-choreographed show, the drones went on to spell out Chinese characters and form airborne images of things like camels and silk worms.

But, on May 1st, as tens of thousands watched from below, the drones evidently came down with a case of stage fright, struggling to spell out phrases like “New Era” or form images like that of the Xi’an city wall and even the number “5” in a failure that was perhaps even more spectacular than when everything went right.

Watch below for a comparison of the two performances:

Watch on QQ video.

Following the failed performance, Guinness was forced to explain that Ehang had already set the record for most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously in its previous rehearsal show, so the flubs on May 1st were immaterial.

Ehang bested the previous record of 1,218 drones, which was set during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics earlier this year. Prior to that Ehang had held the record with a famous show during last year’s Spring Festival that saw 1,000 drones take to the skies above Guangzhou.

Ehang has yet to explain what exactly went wrong with its May 1st show, however, it turns out that it may all have been the audience’s fault.

According to Quartz, Ehang Egret CEO Shi Zheyuan said prior to the performance that signal interference from spectators’ mobile phones could cause some of the drones to fall out of formation, warning that even a small deviation from one drone that could lead to complete chaos.

For the performance, Ehang was paid a whopping 10.5 million yuan ($1.65 million) by the Xi’an city government. The Guangzhou-based company is one of China’s leaders in drone innovation. One of its most notable projects is the Ehang 184, the world’s first passenger drone, which the company showed off last Christmas as a possible replacement for Santa’s sleigh.

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