Are Beer Drones the Future of Music Festivals? A Q&A With Darkwing Aerial's Dean Engela

The Bible may encourage its adherents to "beat their swords into ploughshares,” but what would scripture say about transforming weapons into beer delivery systems for music festivals? Enter Dean Engela, co-founder of South Africa's Darkwing Aerials that is transforming drone technology to deliver beer via GPS guidance to attendees at this August’s OppiKoppi Music Festival. Biz spoke with Engela who gave us guidance on his beer guidance system. What is the OppiKoppi beer drone? It seems a very important technological breakthrough...
Dean Engela: A lot of people think so. Basically the OppiKoppi Festival is launching an app and when festival goers activate the app, they get the opportunity to order a free beer, which we will drop off by parachute using GPS coordinates and a drone.

Whose idea was it?
Carel Hoffman, the founder of OppiKoppi, asked us if we could use the drone to deliver beer for their app and we devised a plan to execute the request, did some tests and built the rig.

Is this the same drone technology the U.S. uses to strike at supposed militants?
I’m not too familiar with that technology as that’s not a big concern here in South Africa, but essentially it’s a similar concept with GPS tracking and computer technology -- just on a very small scale. We can’t get ours to fly for more than 12 minutes; it’s not a big airplane, it’s a little octocoptor.

Will you drop the beer cans in the middle of the fest?
We will be dropping them exclusively at the district 9 camp site at the festival and we'll be dropping the cans off our camera gimble which will be programmed to fly to the GPS point and eject.

What kind of beer are you going to be dropping?
Windhoek, a local beer from Namibia.

Are they sponsoring the festival?
The festival is sponsored by Windhoek and we are doing the promotion through the festival.

How much will it cost?
It’s more of a P.R. thing for the festival than trying to get beer out to the masses. Patrons don’t pay for the beer, which we might put into place at some point, depending on how this first run goes.

What about the costs of sending beer via drone? 
It costs me practically next to nothing, I only have to charge the batteries. 

What about navigators, repairs, loading it up?
We have a team of two and we’ll take one person with us to help load, but otherwise our drone is flying on GPS, which we program it to do. It will land and take off by itself and once it’s flying it does the whole job itself: follows the programmed coordinates, drops the beer on the coordinates, and then flies home.

How accurate is parachuting the beer can?
It’s within a square meter -- as accurate as any modern GPS.

What about if someone else just takes the beer and walks away?
Once you’ve notified us that you’ve activated the app and you’ve hit the I-want-a-free-beer button, we’ll immediately notify you that your beer is on the way and you’ll have to look for it. If we drop the beer and you’re not waiting for it, someone may come in take it -- but that’s part of the fun. After all, the beer is free.

Are you worried about the drone getting damaged?
When people get out of hand and they see a drone they try and throw things at it -- that’s the reason why’re we’re flying it higher and parachuting it. It’s a festival and there's drunk people.


I saw an impressive video your company made (above) using drones. Is this the first thing you’ve done outside of cinematography?
Pretty much, yes, we're experimenting with things, but are main focus is cinematography and photography.

What other applications beyond beer at a music festival could this technology be used for? 
It can go in any direction -- any idea could work now or in the near future. You could have drones delivering food, videotaping, producing, spying, really anything.

Did you have to get any kind of licensing or permits for the beer drone?
At this point in time, there’s nothing set in place. I think in the States they don’t have laws in place. They’re talking about putting laws in place in 2015, but I haven’t heard of any yet.

What about aviation concerns?
No, absolutely nothing. It’s basically a hobby. You don’t have enough height to be classified as any danger to aviation.

How high does it go for the beer run?
For the beer delivery, it’s about 20-30 meters, but it can potentially go as high as 200-300 meters if you wanted..

Has any beer broken open as it hits ground?
No, it hasn’t. The parachute makes it drop safely every time. We are developing a plastic cup that will have the beer inside. So that if something should happen you’re basically getting hit with a water balloon.