Drone display at Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival cancelled after 40 machines damaged by ‘external parties’ jamming GPS signal

  • Police investigate incident that caused some drones to fall into Victoria Harbour and led to two shows being scrapped on Saturday
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 11:34pm

There was no drone performance at the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival again on Sunday after some of the machines crashed into Victoria Harbour the previous night.

Organisers blamed “GPS interference” for Saturday’s incident, which saw about 40 of the 100 machines involved in the display damaged.

Tourism Board executive director Anthony Lau said an initial police investigation ruled out the possibility that the machines had been hacked.

“They [the police] were here all night working with us, and our vendor, and looking into all sorts of possibilities, and have come to the conclusion that it is not computer hacking,” Lau explained. “It is because someone jammed the GPS signal.”

He said the decision to cancel Sunday’s show was taken because the machines were too damaged to use, and because police were still investigating.

For Lau, the worst part was disappointing visitors to the festival, and the potential damage done to the city’s reputation.

The worst thing is to disappoint the public and our tourists
Anthony Lau, Tourism Board

“Other than having all the work that we have put in over the past six months go down the drain, the worst thing is to disappoint the public and our tourists,” he said. “I think it has had some negative impact on the image of Hong Kong. We are really angry.”

As far as any financial loss was concerned, Lau said it was something he would discuss with the vendor once the festival was over. It was not, he said, “a priority right now”.

The cancellation of Sunday’s display upset at least one first-time visitor.

“We are disappointed,” Australian Pearl Li said, attending with American Scarlett Vogle. “Hong Kong is known for its fireworks, but a drone show, this is something different and also more environmentally friendly.”

Anthony Lai Cheuk-tung, a computer security researcher, said it was possible the drones had interfered with each other if they used the same channel.

“If someone jammed the signal on purpose, why were only 40 drones affected rather than all of them?” he said, adding that other factors could also affect the signal including temperature and environment.

A drone photographer surnamed Chan said the signal near Victoria Harbour was poor.

Meanwhile, other visitors did not know the show had been part of the festival, and were more focused on the food and drinks on offer.

“Actually, we didn’t know the show was going on, but we really like to join the wine-tasting classes, and it’s great because the festival has become bigger and bigger,” said Hongkonger Eva Ng, a regular festival attendee.

140,000 visitors expected for biggest Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival

Since the four-day event began on Thursday, a seven-minute performance featuring the drones had taken place at 7pm each evening over the Central harbourfront site.

Two displays were expected to take place on Saturday, at 6pm, and 7.30pm. However, organisers cancelled both shows after experiencing glitches with the drones soon after the first performance began.

As the festival organiser, the Tourism Board apologised to visitors, and said an issue with the GPS signal caused by “external parties” had led to the cancellation.

Hong Kong food and drink festival will feature fine wines ... in plastic glasses

“I must say the festival has already been a lot of fun,” Lau said. “But we are very disappointed with what happened, and we sincerely apologise to everyone for what happened, both those coming to the venue as well as some of the public waiting to watch the show last night and planned to come to the show this evening.”

Lau said the festival had already seen 120,000 visitors over the past three days, 20 per cent more than the same period last year. The Tourism Board expected the total number to reach 140,000.

The drones were supposed to light up the night sky with an array of LED colours, in an aerial choreography of animated patterns over the harbour. They had been expected to form the number 10 to mark the 10th anniversary of the festival as well as simulate the shape of a birthday cake.