Remote Fireworks Launcher

How soon before these people are accused of helping the terrorists?

With around a thousand people in the UK injured every year by fireworks, a new electronic remote control ‘Firework Launcher’ will put safety first and ensure everyone enjoys the Christmas and new year celebrations.This innovative, compact device dramatically reduces the chance of injury by launching fireworks without a flame and at a safe distance—so all you need to worry about is how spectacular those fireworks really are!

Do fireworks kill more people than terrorists each year? Probably.

Posted on January 27, 2009 at 12:34 PM46 Comments


John January 27, 2009 12:58 PM

@: “Do fireworks kill more people than terrorists each year? Probably.”

I doubt it. They certainly aren’t used to knock down skyscapers, sink boats, bomb embasies, or blow up pizzerias or buses in Isreal.

Matthew Carrick January 27, 2009 1:08 PM

Time to start an export business to Gaza because when your launching mini-FROG’s against Israeli civilians you don’t want to take a chance of vaporizing yourself – that’s the IDF’s job!

Joe January 27, 2009 1:30 PM

In a typical year, fireworks probably do kill more people than terrorists. On the other hand, could Taleb’s black swan theory apply? On 9/11, more people died than in all terrorist attacks worldwide throughout the 90s, which might lead us to believe that the total toll of terrorism is exacted in a few large events, instead of many small ones. Since these large events are highly improbable, their probability is especially difficult to estimate.

I know my argument doesn’t apply to this product, and I don’t think that it could really help terrorists. The point is that the average and the median number of people killed by terrorists may differ widely.

Dave X January 27, 2009 1:50 PM

Now that the terrorists have had the chance to copy the idea from Bruce’s blog, the link is down.

here or here are some links with pictures.

Dave X January 27, 2009 1:51 PM

Now that the terrorists have had the chance to copy the idea from Bruce’s blog, the link is down.

here or here are some links with pictures.

Greg January 27, 2009 1:57 PM

I’m really surprised that fireworks are allowed in the UK at all. Given their propensity to ban everything from guns to pointy knives, you’d think these would have been gone long ago.

Trevor Stone January 27, 2009 2:05 PM

If you multiply every terrorist casualty by ten and compare it to the number of fingers lost to fireworks, I suspect the latter would come out ahead.

Happy Chinese New Year!

MysticKnightoftheSea January 27, 2009 2:05 PM

If model rocketry wasn’t already designed around an electrical ignition, it would be a great boon to that, as well.

And, while I think of it, has model rocketry taken a hit regarding the potential for “terrorist use?”


MysticKnightoftheSea January 27, 2009 2:13 PM

Also, interesting reference re the “Black Swan” notion. Which brings brings us back to “How do we predict Black Swans?” By definition you can’t. The best you can do is anticipate them, and make your system (whatever it is) Black Swan resistant. Kind of like what Bruce has been advocating re: software design and security.

And kind of like what Wall Street wasn’t.

John January 27, 2009 2:13 PM

Not really a good comparison. The probability is different, and the average person is probably more likely to be hurt by fireworks. However, addressing the accidental is much different than addressing the deliberate.

Geego January 27, 2009 2:29 PM

And the question is whether a remote control will actually reduce casualties of fireworks. It will help reduce firework operators hurt, but it might easily increase the number of 3rd persons hurt.

At least with the current system the one who takes the greatest risk is the one in control.

Tom January 27, 2009 2:35 PM

Realistically, those things are so tempramental that no terrorist would ever use them, there’s about a 1 in 10 chance of the firework not triggering correctly, or there being a very long delay between pressing the button and anything happening. I suspect terrorists can afford better timing and fuse devices.

Michael January 27, 2009 2:41 PM

@ Joe (January 27, 2009 1:30 PM),

9/11 was the single largest terrorist attack in terms of number of casualties, but nowhere close to the scale that you think it was. 1990s were bad, bad times in South Asia. I suspect deaths in India and Sri Lanka in one year (in the 90s) would be more than 9/11. It was still the biggest attack though. That, plus the mode of attack, makes it a black swan.

On topic.. as many have already said, I don’t think fireworks cause more deaths than terrorism.. but the economic losses are large enough.

Cannonball Jones January 27, 2009 3:01 PM

I’d say fireworks are well below terrorists in terms of body count but I count a fireman, A&E nurse and paramedic among my close friends and reckon from their stories that they probably injure a hell of a lot more. Thankfully it tends to be the people who wouldn’t be treated too well by natural selection were we to revert to a more feral state, no great surprise. Terrorists are much less discriminating…

HJohn January 27, 2009 3:12 PM

@Cannonball Jones: “Thankfully it tends to be the people who wouldn’t be treated too well by natural selection were we to revert to a more feral state, no great surprise.”

I reckon you’re familiar with the Darwin Awards. Try as they may, they will never really be able to protect people from themselves.

Clive Robinson January 27, 2009 4:54 PM

@ Bruce,

“Do fireworks kill more people than terrorists each year? Probably.”

Depends on what you mean by “people” and “terrorists”.

Most (political) terrorist attacks in the West in recent times have affected adults considerably more than children.

Fireworks and “nutters” have probably hurt more children than adults.

The trouble is finding reliable data to say.

Tyler January 27, 2009 4:58 PM

As MysticKnightoftheSea already commented, model rocketry has been doing this for years and years. Electronic ignition via a long wire. I haven’t been in the hobby for quite some time, but I think it was taking quite a hit after 9-11 as people freaked out.

spaceman spiff January 27, 2009 6:32 PM

I bet these would make really dandy detonators for a variety of explosives, and if not “out-of-the-box” then I imagine they could be modified to suit.

xd0s January 27, 2009 6:53 PM

Based on US Government stats on causes of death (from 2006):

Your lifetime odds of dying to terrorism are about 1 in 5.4 million.

You are 16 times more likely to be killed by Fireworks Discharge (1 in 340,733).

I don’t recall off the top of my head if the Fireworks stat counted international deaths (probably not) but the terrorism stats DID count international incidents.

So on a year over year basis, yes, fireworks kill more people than terrorism, or at least did up through 2006.

Full references and other data are captured in the linked YouTube Video Presentation.

peri January 27, 2009 7:09 PM

These results topped my Google searches for terrorism and fireworks fatalities:

From 1980 to 2005, 339 people died in fireworks related accidents. From 1968 to 2006, 3227 people died in terrorist attacks. On average there were 85 terrorism fatalities per year and 14 fireworks related fatalities.

So, technically, many more people die from terrorism than from fireworks but it is also true that the terrorism figure is heavily skewed from the 9/11 attacks and that plot would certainly not have benefited from this device.

If we ignore the 2,974 people who died in the 9/11 attacks, the average drops to 7 terrorism fatalities per year.

peri January 27, 2009 7:25 PM

I wanted to follow up with a link to the “NFPA report on fireworks” that I used as a source for my previous post:

“Full references and other data are captured in the linked YouTube Video Presentation.”

I don’t believe that fireworks statistic and I can only make out “http:/” Can you read the URI?

averros January 27, 2009 8:54 PM

Anybody with a Mouser catalog and a little skill with soldering iron can easily a working remote ignition control for abiout $20. Ready-to-use radio modules and el-cheapo microcontrollers (if one wants to be really fancy and/or code-protected) aren’t exactly hard to come by.

Colossal Squid January 28, 2009 3:31 AM

“Guy Fawkes must be turning in his grave.”

Yeah, if he’d had one of these maybe he’d have got away with it.

Tim January 28, 2009 6:00 AM

Following on from the above comments, it if fortunate that these were not available a few years back, when IRA terrorists with funding from American citizens were blowing up innocent civilians.

Richard January 28, 2009 6:29 AM

The important element in the system is the “e-clip” – this is a simple device which burns at a high temoperature when you connect 4-5 volts across it. These have indeed been in general use for model rocketry (usually via a long wire) for over 20 years in the UK.
The rest of the system is standard IR remote control stuff as used in televisions etc – so the IRA would certainly have had access to them. In fact they preferred to use model radio control gear (VHF radio) to set off their bombs – as it has a much greater range (up to a couple of miles given line of sight – less if there are things in the way).

I never noticed any restrictions on the sale of RC gear as a consequence of the IRA’s use – so the authorities in those days were sensible.

Clive Robinson January 28, 2009 7:38 AM

For those who are going on about “terrorists” get a grip…

Battery operated fuel igniters have been available for many many years in one form or another.

Generaly they are of three types, “glow wire” “induction spark” “piezo spark”.

A glow wire works in the same way an incandescent light bulb filament works. An induction spark works in the same way your car ignition (used to work). And the piezo is a more modern system that has been used in more expensive cigarette lighters and gas barbeques.

Both the glow wire and induction spark systems can be made by pre-teen children with access to a real of fine enameled copper wire and either a pin or an iron nail respectivly.

The important point is that none of these igniters will directly set of the sort of explosives generaly used commercialy or by the military because the lack the energy required.

If you want to know more google “explosive train safety”.

Clive Robinson January 28, 2009 9:02 AM

As for,

“Guy Fawkes must be turning in his grave.”

I don’t think he had “a grave”.

However his death was an object lesson in “justice being seen to be done”.

After he was captured he did not respond to questioning and the King (James) autherised the use of torture. Although how has not been recorded it is likley he spent time in “little ease” and was either “pressed” or “racked”.

He was sentanced to Hanging drawing and quatering along with other members of the gunpowder plot.

Basicaly you would be “hung” untill nearly dead, then be cut down and as you regained conciousness you would be partialy eviserated and your guts “drawn” and be placed on a brazier in front of your eyes, you would then be “quatered” by the use of a hatchet or similar. The main aim of it was that you would be alive for as much of the procedure as possible and the executioner would take care to ensure this for the benifit of the audiance.

Normaly your various body parts would then be dispersed to be buried in unknown places such as middens and ditches (but not a grave) and often your head would be placed on a spike in public to serve as warning to others.

It is said Guy Fawkes cheated the executioner by jumping off the platform on which he was being hanged thereby breaking his neck.

gwossum January 28, 2009 12:47 PM

There’s a US company with something very similar:

It’s essentially a modified version of this pager:

The fireworks version has some high output drivers to fire squibs, and some extra brown out detection circuitry to keep it from going haywire when the battery gets low.

However, as someone already said, if you’re a terrorist, it would be MUCH cheaper to modify a wristwatch or a cell phone or a remote control toy as a remote explosive detonator. Plus, you can’t go into the corner 7-11 and pay cash for systems like these. There’d a paper trail back to you and your organization.

BTW, this particular product has been around 4-5 years, and I’ve never heard of it being used inappropriately.

Savik January 28, 2009 3:01 PM

“Do fireworks kill more people than terrorists each year? Probably.”

This question is so trifle it almost does not deserve an answer.

There are lots of things that kill more people than terrorists do each year. Should we do nothing then after a terrorist incident but clean up the mess?

Perhaps if you are a spineless pathetic excuse for a human being!

There is still such a thing as national honor and national pride. When you attack a nation or people they have not only a right but a duty to defend themselves – no matter the cost.

You can not equate terrorism with such things as car accidents or heart disease, etc.

Annie Nomous January 28, 2009 3:11 PM

E-Clip, shmee clip. 12 seconds to ignite is pathetic. That’s so long you’d be likely to walk over to check what went wrong. Things are supposed to go KABOOM when you push the button. As a former adolecent, I can attest that the methods Clive outlined have been used for years, and can produce ignition in under a second.

Shad January 29, 2009 3:34 AM

Savik: Why can’t be deaths by different causes equated? Is a person killed by a terrorist any more dead than a victim of a “normal” mishap? I am much more likely to die of heart stroke than by a terrorist attack. I want the money to be sensibly invested in e.g. health care system where they will protect my life better instead of being wasted on chasing ghosts and robbing people of privacy and freedom.

Why should I consider selling my safety for something as illusory as “national pride”? Did you ever hear about efficient allocation of resources?

Shad January 29, 2009 12:48 PM


I am all about the efficient allocation of resources. One can fight a war without restricting privacy or freedom. Many times though wars are just excuses for evil people to take those things away.

If the 9/11 response was handled properly there would be no more radical Islamic terrorists around for us to be concerned about and it would have been finished years ago and at a fraction of the cost that has been spent on this ridiculous “war on terror.” But instead of stepping up and doing the hard and right thing they started to take my finger nail clippers away from me when I wanted to fly on an airplane.

National Pride is not illusory – it is a form of love. Love for your family and love for your nation are not far removed from each other. It is more real than your heart disease and bigger than any one person could ever be. It is the substance of what we are as a nation – and if you don’t have it – I feel sorry for your empty soul.

Anonymous January 30, 2009 4:53 AM

Shad(?) at January 29, 2009 12:48 PM: One can – but did it ever happen? Stripping down freedoms is especially bad in times of Wars on Nouns, whether the noun is drugs or terror.

The concept of nation-states was perhaps making some sense back in the ancient times when the geography and languages posed a serious obstacle in travel and communication. Now almost everybody speaks English and it takes 24 hours or less to get from any mid-sized city to any other mid-sized city, if we ignore the occasional airport worker strikes. The borders, despite yapping of politicians, are now mere anachronism, unnecessarily dividing people. Why should I need to fill my soul with allegiance to some ad-hoc geopolitical entity when family and friends do the same job better? And, ultimately, isn’t Earth itself the only geopolitical entity that makes sense to deal with?

xd0s February 3, 2009 9:58 AM

Sorry for the delay, I was away for a bit and just caught up, I’ll dig up the references and repost here for you.

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