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A Look at the Intel Drone that Rocked Super Bowl Sunday

By S.L. Fuller | February 6, 2017
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Intel and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are collaborating on “Starbright Holidays – An Intel Collaboration” at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Using all-new Intel Shooting Star drones, the presentation paints colorful images across the sky at the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment district. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Photo courtesy of Intel Corp.

Yes, the audience saw a televised drone light show and Lady Gaga on the roof during Pepsi's 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Show Feb. 5. But that doesn't mean Intel didn't actually put 300 drones into Class C airspace (with the proper FAA waivers, of course) the night of the Super Bowl. USA Today reported that the video shoot actually took place Jan. 30. It was kept top secret — although some did notice the low-flying helicopters that were being used for security purposes. The FAA waived Part 107 regulations concerning daylight operation and operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft.

Intel has said it prefers to think of its drones as one entity — one fleet — when doing light shows. But those individual drones are a creation of Intel's. The Shooting Star is a quadcopter drone that features splash-proof cages for its rotors, ensuring safety and allowing the drone to fly in light rain. It weighs less than a volleyball at 280 g (just under 10 oz), but has no payload. Flight time for the Shooting Star is no more than 20 min. The quadcopter also features built-in light-emitting diode (LED) lights, which Intel said can create more than 4 billion color combinations based on red, green, blue and white lights.

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Software and animation interface allows Intel to create shows in a matter of days, and the company's algorithims can automate the animation creation process by calculating the number of drones needed with just a picture. The algorithim can then formulate the fastest path to create the image in the sky. The light show software runs a complete fleet check before flight, analyzing which drones are most optimal for flight based on battery life and GPS reception, among other items. The fleet can be controlled by one computer. This means a whole show only needs one operator. But Intel said it likes to use two — one for backup.

Intel's drone capabilities can be attributed, in part, to its acquisition of Ascending Technologies. The German company develops and manufactures drones and has led the way in sensor data processing and flight attitude control efforts. Ascending Technologies announced this acquisition in early January 2016.

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