Intel and Disney paint the sky

Intel builds the drones in a facility in Germany. They are designed to be assembled in less than 15 minutes. There are no screws and everything snaps together. Intel will not say how many they’ve built to date, but there were 600 on site for the inaugural show at Disney World.

Seeing this many drones, sitting tightly packed on their launch pads was an awe-inspiring sight. It was quiet, but they would soon take to the air and delight the crowds. The drones didn’t look nervous. And neither did the Intel engineers.

Shooting Star project started as hallway chitchat. Several years ago, Intel engineers were discussing the possibilities of recreating the Intel logo out of drones. As the story goes, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich overheard and told them to get to work.

In late 2015 Intel partnered with small group of artists and technology researchers at Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria, and sent 100 drones into the air. Four pilots controlled the 100 drones, that launched from four different airfields. Each drone was sitting meters apart when it launched. This feat earned Intel a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. But the record didn’t last long.

Last month the company released footage of the 500 Shooting Star drones taking flight light humming fireflies in the skies outside Munich, Germany.

The drones didn’t look nervous. And neither did the Intel engineers.

A lot has changed since the Drone 100. What used to take months to plan and execute, Intel says can now happen in hours. The original drones flew 6 meters apart; now the Shooting Star drones fly as close as 1.5 meters. More over, those early projects forced the engineers to plot the path of the individual drones, which took weeks to program.

Intel says basic shows can be programmed in an hour or two. More complex shows, like the one they’re showing at Disney, can take several days to a week. The “Starbright Holidays” show is scheduled to run over the holidays at Disney Springs.

The representatives I talked to avoided talking about if a drone show could be a regular attraction at Disney World. Fireworks can only be used once. These drones are rechargeable and possibly upgradable. They’re capable of flying in slight rain and wind, which is perfect for Florida. And drones are still exciting. Disney likes exciting.

From what I saw, and considering the redundancy built into the system, it’s entirely possible that this drone show could stick around and change with the seasons. This is Disney World, the same place that shoots fireworks off every night of the year and can write an irritating theme song for a ride about our small world, after all. The park can probably manage maintaining a couple hundred drones.

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