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At Intel, drones reimagine fireworks and reinvent light shows

By Anil Nanduri – Intel Corporation

For the last 1,400 years, fireworks were predominantly the only way audiences could experience a light show in the sky. Now, in the 21st century, welcome to the next generation of light shows, thanks to Intel drone light show technology.

From performances on one of the largest international stages – the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 where Intel achieved a new Guinness World Records title for the opening ceremony flight – to lighting the Las Vegas Strip and performing with the Fountains of Bellagio, and most recently at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Intel has been thrilling crowds and making headlines with our drone light shows.

It is believed that fireworks date back to the seventh century, when the people of China first used them to accompany festivities. While fireworks amaze the young and old alike, there are pollution and safety concerns, with many cities banning shows due to the concerns. Additionally, the sound of traditional fireworks is known to upset farm animals, family pets and young children.

Technology courtesy of drone light shows provides an opportunity to experience the night sky in different ways. Think of drone light shows as modern-day fireworks that are green, reusable and more precise, providing programmable control for a new generation of aerial artisans and technicians. And they include innovations that effectively address many of the issues associated with traditional fireworks shows.

Let me outline the opportunity of this technology, the history of these light shows and how Intel envisions leveraging this technology in the future.

The Idea

A few years ago, Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, asked the team if we could use drones to draw Intel’s logo above our headquarters. As part of the New Technology Group at Intel, our organization’s charter is to test and incubate new technologies, and we tested the technology with 100 drones controlled by a single pilot.

We worked to understand the mechanics of operating a show – from logistics and animations to safety protocols and airspace regulations. Our findings led to development of a sustainable business model. In less than a year, a handful of our talented engineers had purpose-built new hardware and software – the Intel® Shooting Star™ system for drone light shows – leading us to multiple world records and a collaboration with a major theme park for a winter holiday show.

Since then, our light shows have flown in more than 10 countries at major events: from a performance for a Super Bowl halftime show, the home entertainment release of “Wonder Woman,” Singapore’s National Day parade, most recently during headlining electronic duo ODESZA’s set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and more.

The Future

The sky is a blank canvas for creating new experiences with drone light shows, including Intel branding and awareness. Both Intel and our strategic partners have benefitted from the media attention and awards generated by our shows. We look forward to seeing these experiences in locations across the world from sporting events, theme parks, celebrations and more.

The technology employed in our drone light shows can be applied to other applications, including search and rescue where multiple drones can look for a lost hiker, or commercial applications for large infrastructure inspections that reduce inspection time and improve efficiency.

As we look forward, the notion of flying lights and being able to use drones indoors – including in stadiums and theaters where GPS signals for positioning are not available – led us to develop new capabilities to fly drone swarms inside. At CES this year, during Krzanich’s opening keynote, we demonstrated synchronized flight indoors with the newly designed Intel® Shooting Star™ Mini system1, creating a new world record with 110 drones flying simultaneously.

At Intel, we will continue to push the boundaries of drone technology, accelerating the adoption of commercial drone use and proliferating this new, innovative form of entertainment. We are committed to bringing drone innovations to market in a safe, responsible and scalable way. We are thankful for the regulatory agencies, ecosystem partners, customers and everyone involved that helped make this a reality.

One day in the future, we will look back at history and see how drone light shows transformed the way we look at the night sky.

Anil Nanduri is vice president of the New Technology Group and general manager of Unmanned Aviation Systems at Intel Corporation.

1Notice: This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.
Photo and video credit: Intel Corporation
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