By Jin Bo
A spectacular drone light show staged above the Yazhou Bay Science and Technology City in Sanya, China’s southernmost province of Hainan to celebrate the five-day Labor Day holiday has brought viewers a brand new sensory experience.
During the show, 500 drones wowed the audience with different formations, including a farmer working in the fields and a diver planting corals on the seabed.
The drones that performed at the show were piloted by a team from EFY Intelligent Control (Tianjin) Technology Co., Ltd. based in north China’s Tianjin municipality.
“These drones, which include consumer drones and those for aerial photography, mapping and plant protection, are all independently developed by our team,” Qi Juntong, founder of the company, told People’s Daily, pointing at several hundred drones of different sizes, including one-meter-long and palm-sized ones, that lined up in a plant of the company.
Qi disclosed that compared to the development of a single drone, his team pays more attention to autonomous control technologies for intelligent drone swarms, especially flight control consistency for avoiding collisions of drones with different trajectories.
To ensure that drones can coordinate yet do not interfere with each other, Qi and his team built an integrated and intelligent flight test system for drones after overcoming a large number of technological problems. The system ensures the error in drone swarm control is kept within centimeters.
“We have made all-out efforts to seek breakthroughs in autonomous control technologies for intelligent drone swarms, which have been widely used in such fields as patrol inspection, security, logistics, and transportation,” Qi said.
Last summer, EFY’s team took the crown in an individual event of a high-level drone swarm system competition. According to the leader of the team, for a drone swarm to win the competition, it must be able to fly, identify, and locate several moving vehicles, and follow them at close range based on the changing numbers on them autonomously.
By establishing a flying ad-hoc network and using cameras, artificial intelligence algorithms, and intelligent decision-making algorithms, the team managed to enable its drone swarm to realize whole-process steady tracking of the vehicles.
“Scientific research achievements need to be tested in the market. If they are not well received in the market, it will be difficult to realize the commercialization of innovation outcomes,” Qi said, adding that the company has applied for 257 drone-related patents.
Drone swarm performance is one of the most intuitive ways for the general public to understand the application of drone-swarm control technologies, which is why he founded EFY in 2015 to put the technologies into commercial use like drone swarm performance, according to Qi.
Drone swarm performance is also the first step in realizing complex applications of drone-swarm control technologies. Last year, EFY held 277 drone displays with 168,730 successful takeoffs and landings.
“Our company manufactured about 10,000 drones of various types in 2021, and our overall operating income realized a threefold increase from the previous year,” said Guo Jing, deputy general manager of the company.
“We are lucky to live in the best of times,” Qi said, explaining that governments at all levels in China have given high priority to innovative development, allowing the company to focus on technology breakthroughs, market explorations, and rapid expansion.
When EFY was just founded, it had to share an office with another company, according to Qi, who disclosed that now EFY has moved into its new premises with an area of over 10,000 square meters and become a national-level high-tech enterprise. The company’s fast development exceeded his expectations, Qi added.
EFY is based in Tianjin Binhai-Zhongguancun Science Park, which was formerly dominated by industries including the chemical industry. Now the science park is home to over 40 enterprises in the drone industry and other industries involving intelligent equipment, and has been upgraded to an industrial park for intelligent unmanned equipment.
“From simply providing office space to offering services and then to concentrating efforts on cultivating an innovation ecosystem, our science park has evolved into its 3.0 version,” said an executive of the science park.