Choreographed to music and lights, Intel Shooting Star Drones perform spectacular light shows.
SOMETHING new and dazzling was put on show at the 19th Perak Malaysia Games (Sukma) opening ceremony last month.
Spectators at the stadium were treated to something new — a light show where 250 drones from
Intel performed choreographed formations with colourful lights.
This was the first time Intel brought its new entertainment light show technology to the nation and it was amazing, giving a new form to outdoor, night entertainment.
How did the computer chip maker become involved in drone projects and light shows? Intel Drone Light Shows general manager Natalie Cheung says this initiative came about three years ago when Intel was working on other drone projects.
“Our former CEO commented ‘wouldn’t it be cool to have 100 drones create an Intel logo above our headquarters?’ We all thought it was a very interesting concept, because from a technical point of view, multiple drones controlled by one pilot is quite a challenge.
“We started a small team to try it out— but it was really only when we flew the first flight in Germany did we see the huge opportunity we had just created.”
By choreographing drones to music and lights, Intel is changing entertainment.
“That was when we truly started to venture out to see how we could showcase more of this idea. All it took was a hallway conversation on ‘what if we could do something like this?’.”
Known as Intel Shooting Star Drones, the project has awed thousands of spectators around the world.
Cheung became involved in drones when she was working in the CEO office as a research analyst.
“I still remember the first time I flew a drone— there was a lot of excitement and I still feel the same level of excitement when I see hundreds, even thousands of drones fly in a show as well as the reactions from the audiences,” she says. “I can’t wait to share how this new technology can really change the art and entertainment space,” she adds.
The initial Intel drone light shows took five to seven months with 20 people working with 100 drones.
“We realised that we needed to redesign the system from the ground up to optimise the process — from hardware, software, logistics and operations to animation. We created the Intel Shooting Star System, where only a couple months and five to six people on site are needed to fly 300 drones.”
A drone light show is a new form of night time entertainment — it’s a vehicle to display multiple drones, controlled by one pilot and have the fleet create images and animation in the sky synchronised to music and lighting effects. It can be used for entertainment, art, branding in the
sky, marketing, events and more.
There are many moving parts involved in a light show. They include development of the animation ina3D space, software-based control system for hundreds of GPS-equipped drones, working with local aviation regulatory bodies on permits and exemptions while also helping ensure a safe show, and building and maintaining hundreds of drones.
A typical show runs between five and eight minutes based on battery life of the drone, environment, and aviation regulations.
“Our focus is quality shows with 3D points of lights that wow any audience.”
These drone light shows area full end to end service provided by Intel, which has built and designed these lightweight drones from scratch.
The Intel Shooting Star drone features built-in LED lights that can create volumetric
3D images and animations in the sky with over four billion colour combinations based on red, green, blue and white LED, synchronised to music and lighting effects.
Intel’s proprietary algorithms along with talented graphic designers and animators can automate the creation process for any image, by quickly calculating the number of drones needed, determining the position of the drones and formulate the fastest path to create the image.
“Intel has a proprietary software that runs a complete fleet check prior to each flight and can select the most optimised drones for each flight based on battery life, GPS reception and more. Moreover, one computer can easily control the entire fleet of hundreds of drones.”
Every drone light show is unique and brings new challenges.
Cheung says her team has to look at different factors: environment, aviation permits, animation with respect to the audience and the site of the launch of the drones, etc.
One challenge that cannot be controlled is the weather.
“We collect wind data and analyse wind trends in the past year as well as on site so that we can make a data centric analysis on whether or not it is safe to fly or delay the show.”
SHOWS AROUND THE WORLD
Intel has produced more than 200 public light shows in 16 countries and across five continents, including setting a world record during the Opening Ceremony broadcast for the 2018
Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, kicking off the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show with Lady Gaga, integrated into the iconic Bellagio Fountains at CES 2018 in Las Vegas and lighting up the desert sky at the Coachella Music Festival during Odesza’s headlining set.
In Southeast Asia, Intel has successfully produced drone light shows last year at Singapore’s National Day Parade and at the Countdown to Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta.
“Last month, we organised Malaysia’s first drone light show at the Sukma games opening ceremony in Ipoh,” says Cheung.
Intel is enabling more people in more places to experience this dazzling visual display that showcases how innovative technology makes amazing experiences possible.
“We are continuing to expand light shows, both outdoors and indoors, across the world to showcase 3D lighting display in the sky,” says Cheung.
“We keep pushing the limits on the number of drones we can fly simultaneously and have flown up to 2,018 drones for Intel’s 50th anniversary, breaking a Guinness World Record for the most UAVs airborne simultaneously.”
INTEL designs and builds Shooting Star drones. The drones are specifically used for Intel Drone Light Shows and cannot be purchased by the public.
The Intel Shooting Star drone features built-in LED lights that can create more than four billion colour combinations. Intel has also built customised software to automate the animation, which enables it to create a light show in a matter of weeks.
The drones are designed with safety in mind. The body is constructed with a soft frame made of flexible plastics and foam, and weighs 330g.
The quadcopter’s propellers are also protected by covered cages—all features designed to ensure the drone is safe to fly and is splash-proof.
In addition to the design, there is emphasis on safety in drone performances and operations through geo fencing systems and auto-land contingencies.