It’s that time of year again when we all slow down, take a little needed vacation time, and celebrate the independence of the United States by blowing things up.

Of course I’m talking about fireworks. I remember being excited as a kid watching the fascinating art of shooting rockets into the sky and watching the colorful aerial explosions. The heart-pounding roar heard moments later only added to the fun. Maybe it was because I live outside of Detroit, which is home to one of the largest fireworks displays in the country, but even today, I am still amazed by these events. Check out the 1-minute clip below, from this year’s Detroit-Windsor show!





So in celebration of the upcoming holiday, I thought I would take an opportunity to uncover the technology behind the scenes that helps to build these kick-ass shows.

A lot has changed since the Chinese invented fireworks around 1040. In the beginning, people had to barbarically light the fuses of individual fireworks with actual fire. Luckily for us, with our pyrotechnician friends running the shows, this process has been replaced my much more advanced techniques.

Detroit/Windsor Fireworks

Detroit-Windsor Fireworks

Today the firing of these little mini explosions in the sky is controlled by highly advanced computerized firing systems. A simple script of commands manages the entire process allowing for a highly advanced fireworks display launched at the click of a button. Heck, even the fireworks themselves have chips in them to ensure the accurate firing of the pigment payload, so that it occurs at a specific location and distance. Long gone are the antiquated shows of the past that required people running around with burned fingers, trying to keep up with stuffing tubes with fireworks and lighting wicks at just the right time. Even the electronic firing systems from 20 years ago, which required setting hundreds if not thousands of little switches to govern the semi-accurate firing of fire, have been replaced.

These computerized systems also give control to choreograph the fireworks to sync with music, and even handle frustrating timing issues caused by setting differing explosion altitudes. And what does that all mean? Well, now we can beautifully choreograph even the most complex of shows to Neil Diamond, Conway Twitty, or even the latest Jay Z track, which of course, elevates events to almost unheard levels of awesomeness.

Even creating the scripts to run these crazy complex shows has been radically changed with technology. New systems today allow you to upload images of your location, upload music, and create real-time 3D simulations of fireworks, showing the magic living in the heads of the friendly explosion architect. Once the masterpiece is finished and approved by stakeholders, simply send over to your computer firing station, and you are all set. The symphony of mid-air color bombs will be wirelessly transmitted to your firing station (or barges in the case of us here in Detroit) to spew all the amazing lights and thunderous ear music into the stratosphere.

With technology advancements shaping everything we do, it’s nice to see some of it being used to make us all smile a little more. I can’t wait to see what’s next in fireworks tech!

Happy 4th of July everyone!