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Oakland entrepreneur’s drone business taking off as alternative to fireworks

<i>KPIX via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Oakland entrepreneur
KPIX via CNN Newsource
Oakland entrepreneur

By Ryan Yamamoto

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    OAKLAND, California (KPIX) — As some communities get ready for big fireworks displays for the July 4th holiday, others are making different plans — including drone light shows.

An Oakland entrepreneur is taking his small business to new heights and capitalizing on the increasing popularity of drone light shows as an alternative to fireworks displays.

Inside John Eric Henry’s office in Oakland’s Jack London Square, he likes to create 3D animations of things flying in the night.

“This is where the magic happens,” said Henry, owner of Pinnacle Drone Light Shows. “This office used to be called the Holodeck [a Star Trek reference], but now it’s called Area 211 in honor of Area 51.”

But rather than build UFOs, Henry likes to build and tell stories by programming and mapping the flight paths of drones.

“Each drone represents a pixel or sphere,” said Henry.

For the past six years, Henry has slowly grown his drone light show business at a time when cities and counties are thinking about or even shifting away from fireworks shows.

“I recognize that the drone light shows are really the thing of the future, especially in areas where there is high fire danger,” said Henry.

This year the City of Napa decided to pivot to a drone light show for its 4th of July celebration, saying fire danger was one of the factors.

“The potential for red flag warnings, elevated temperatures, drier conditions, and a lot of fuel from the wet winter having an impact as we go into fire season,” said Jaina French, community relations manager for the City of Napa.

The city hired Sky Elements Drones, a major production company based in Texas, to put on a 400-drone light display at the Oxbow Commons on July 4th.

French says, along with fire concerns, other factors such as mitigating noise for pets, and preventing PTSD triggers in veterans played a role in the city’s decision.

Henry says while business is picking up, the move to drones has been a slow transition, with only a handful of companies able to put on the big shows that can compete with the “wow” factor of fireworks.

“We are still in our infancy, but technology is evolving,” said Henry. “We have a partner overseas that is working on having a fireworks-type apparatus on the drones.”

Currently, Henry and his Pinnacle company work shows with 200 drones, but that is about to change. Recently, he visited China where he is looking to build 1,000 drones.

“I was visiting a drone manufacturer overseas, to have them 3D-printed,” said Henry. “The goal is to get them flying in time for a big show on New Year’s Eve.”

Pinnacle Drone Light Shows will perform a drone show for Oakland’s 4th of July celebration and is also preparing a 201-drone show display for the Oakland Roots season finale in October.

The City of Napa will begin its 4th of July festivities with the annual parade on 2nd and 3rd street in the morning, with the drone show at the Oxbow Commons at 9:30 p.m.

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