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A New Fourth of July Tradition: Drone Shows


Mary-Lou Smulders

fourth of july drone show

A version of this article was first published by Security Today.

Fireworks have been an essential part of Independence Day since the very first celebration back in Philadelphia in 1777. But like other holidays, moving from open flames to electric lights to celebrate, the Fourth of July isn’t immune from technological advances. Cities are increasingly turning to drone displays as an alternative to traditional fireworks, citing fears about potential wildfires, concern for veterans with PTSD, and a desire to reduce air and noise pollution.

Drone displays can produce a visually stunning display – all without odor or noise and at cost parity with traditional fireworks displays. Spectators see an array of tiny lit flying machines executing very skilled maneuvers to music, forming incredible, colorful and dancing designs painting the night sky with the same “WOW!” effect as fireworks. Dollywood has adopted drones as part of its newest Summer Celebration 600 drones helped celebrate The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Vivid Sydney more than doubles that number of drones in its “Written in the Stars” show. 

With the drone economy growing exponentially, drones are starting to play crucial roles in all aspects of society — from deliveries, agriculture, emergency response, and the military to art and culture. Unfortunately, this emerging golden era of drones also presents opportunities for nefarious and careless activity in our skies. In order to tap the full potential of drones, we need to develop an action plan for citizens, enterprises, and ultimately the economy to ensure effective policing, protection, and policy — all without hampering the innovative, productive, and creative benefits that drones bring.


The counter-drone industry isn’t anti-drone — in fact, the industry should be called “Airspace Security”. We recognize the impressive potential for drones to reshape — and fundamentally improve — society. Drones can create new jobs, help us be more productive, and keep essential supply chains flowing in even the most complex situations. And yes, they can be art. But at the same time, we also know that we must encourage the flourishing of legitimate drone activity while also stopping drones operated by malicious or careless users before they cause issues.

When it comes to securing major events across all areas from marathons and fun runs like the Cooper Bridge 10K or sporting events like the Preakness Stakes, Dedrone has worked with local law enforcement to build a flexible, and responsive systems designed specifically to protect against drone incursions. This includes automated alerts to provide actionable information like drone and pilot location, integrated cameras to visually document the pilot and identify potential drone payload, and ultimately, solutions to mitigate unauthorized flights. Anti-drone systems like our own DedroneRapidResponse can detect a drone and locate its pilot as soon as the drone is turned on, even while warming up and establishing its bearings on the ground. This gives security teams a significant headstart on a pilot about to send a drone into the no-fly zone.


The industry is constantly developing new solutions in the ongoing drone arms race. For example, the industry has already developed systems that can identify malicious drone usage and deploy countermeasures. 

For instance, Dedrone launched City-Wide Drone Detection earlier this year, allowing both law enforcement and private security professionals to leverage existing hardware to monitor urban areas. This solution both works in security operating centers and on phones and tablets, making it particularly useful for protecting crime scenes, search & rescue operations and outdoor events like drone shows. 


Finally, when it comes to policy, industry leaders and lawmakers are working in tandem to enhance authorities and regulations that allow the productive drone economy to grow rapidly and still ensure people, property, and information are protected from the threat of drones.

Last year, the White House launched its Domestic cUAS National Action Plan. Among its eight major points are:

  • Reauthorize / expand existing counter‑UAS authorities for federal and SLTT agencies
  • Enact comprehensive criminal statute that sets clear standards for legal / illegal drone use with adequate penalties to deter UAS-based crimes
  • Establish oversight and enablement mechanisms to support critical infrastructure facilities in purchasing counter-UAS equipment

Since then, Congress has taken up new legislation. The bipartisan Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act has been praised by security officials from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and more. Given that current authorizations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to counter and mitigate malicious drones expire in September 2023 (right as football season kicks off), it’s likely this bill will be passed between now and then, ideally sooner rather than later. The bill adopts many of the provisions outlined in the National Action Plan. 

It’s likely this bill will be incorporated into the reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dedrone is currently both participating in ongoing testing of drone detection systems occurring at five airports through the FAA and as a member of the Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) Detection and Mitigation Systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee

Fireworks aren’t going away immediately. But at the same time, efforts to protect both citizens and the environment show that we need alternatives like drone shows. As we work to build a new, technologically-advanced Fourth of July tradition, we also need to build a system surrounding these drone shows that ensures they’re safe, uninterrupted, and easily enjoyed by viewers each and every year. Public and private partnerships to build these systems will be essential, and we are proud to be participating in some of them to keep the skies safe. 


July 3, 2023

| Updated

July 13, 2023

About the author

Mary-Lou Smulders is the Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, where she leads Dedrone's global marketing and communications team.

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