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Intel Breaks Drone Record with 500-Drone Fleet

November 4, 2016

Intel's Shooting Star drone and advanced fleet algorithms make the magic happen
Intel today announced both its record-breaking drone flight, Intel 500, and its new Intel Shooting Star drone.

These innovations represent Intel’s focus on the drone industry, as evidenced by new product offerings and recent acquisitions in the commercial drone space.

Make a wish

What started as a mundane hallway conversation — “What if we made the Intel logo with drones?” — is now a reality. In October, Intel announced its commercial branded drone, the Intel Falcon 8+ octocopter — now, the technology company is getting into the aerial entertainment business with the Intel Shooting Star.

When creating and designing the Shooting Star, Intel focused heavily on safety concerns, but also on the need for creative expression.

The quads have an integrated LED payload, capable of creating 4 billion color combinations with a red, green, blue, white LED system. Caged propellers help ensure bystanders are protected in case of an unforeseen malfunction.

Intel built into the Shooting Star its AscTec Trinity Flight Control system (a product of Ascending Technologies, which was acquired by Intel in January), allowing for increased stabilization and improved performance in gusty winds. The Trinity system is the same control program used in Intel’s Falcon 8+ and E-volo’s Volocopter. The drone is also splashproof and can survive flights in light rain.

The company chose to move away from more durable materials such as carbon fiber, instead opting to build the Shooting Star out of entirely breakable materials — the airframe is plastic, and the drone is also covered by a layer of protective foam. These design choices mean the drone is not only safe, but also extremely lightweight — weighing in at only 280 grams, or less than the weight of a volleyball.

500 stars

On Oct. 7 in Hamburg, Germany, Intel put its new drone to the test when 500 Shooting Star drones flew at once, breaking its own Guinness World Record for Most UAVs Airborne Simultaneously. The company set the record previously with its Intel 100 performance in Nov. 2015, which featured 100 illuminated drones flying in formation near Hamburg.

The company saw inefficiencies in its original Intel 100 performance, realizing that there were ways to optimize the workflow, systems, and airframe involved in the production. The Shooting Star drone was borne from this effort to build upon Intel’s existing fleet technology.

Natalie Cheung, UAV product manager at Intel, explains that the Intel 500 performance orchestrated the 500 Shooting Star drones to first collectively form an aerial 500, and then fly into the form of the Intel logo — similar to the original Intel 100 performance.

“You could see that you could really create 3D animations — there’s just so much more than you can do with 500 [than 100],” she says.

Intel's new Shooting Star drone was designed with safety and creativity in mind — the lightweight airframe features caged propellors, foam-insulated design, and an LED system capable of creating 4 billion color combinations.

A fleet mentality

Intel sees many commercial applications for these unmanned aerial fleet systems outside of the world of light shows. Drone operations that rely on visual sensors — such as inspections and search-and-rescue missions — could benefit from multiple cameras operating in a pre-programmed fleet formation.

The fleet is run by a system of advanced Intel algorithms. Before flight, the system checks each individual drone, then selects the healthiest (based on GPS signal, battery life, etc.) drones among them to fly for the animation.

Behind the scenes, an Intel-developed software system processes the animation and dynamically optimizes the best path for each drone in order to create the intended visual result. The software was heavily redesigned and adapted to facilitate the complex flight operations for Intel 500.

“Intel’s proprietary algorithms can automate the animation creation process by an image and quickly calculating the number of drones needed, determining where drones should be placed, and formulate the fastest path to create the image in the sky,” said Intel in a statement.

Law of the skies

On Aug. 31, Intel received its Part 107 waiver for operation of multiple UAS enabling multi-drone flight operations in U.S. Class G airspace. Intel already held a Section 333 exemption, but it limited the company to a relatively small fleet.

Cheung says that the work Intel performed on the Section 333 helped pave the way for its Part 107 waivers.

“We worked with the FAA to explain and understand the Shooting Star drone to them, and they gave us a waiver to fly not only multiple drones, but with one pilot and at night," explains Cheung.

Intel is interested in bringing its Shooting Star drone to perform light shows not only to the U.S., but to the world. As regulations for drones vary widely depending on geographic location, Intel may face additional challenges in bringing drone entertainment to the global masses.

Anil Nanduri, marketing director of perceptual computing at Intel, has helped drive the company toward further UAS involvement.

“We are continuing to invest in technologies and companies that will enable us to provide the best compute, sensor, communications and cloud integration for the growing drone ecosystem,” said Nanduri in a statement.

Watch Intel's first record breaking flight of 100 drones here.