Intel Lights Up the Sky With New Shooting Star Drone

The chip maker set another world record last month by putting 500 of the drones into the sky at the same time and controlling them from a single PC.

Intel drone

Drones are an important part of Intel's growth plans, and the chip maker continues to expand its presence in the nascent space.

Drones have become a consistent presence in keynote addresses and showroom floors during such events as the Intel Developer Forum, the company has bought and invested in a number of drone technology vendors, and CEO Brian Krzanich chairs an advisory board to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created to help the agency create regulations for drones.

In August, Intel unveiled its Aero Platform aimed at developers and the Aero Ready to Fly drone that is coming at the end of the year. Last month, Intel introduced the Falcon 8+, the company's first branded drone built off work done on the Falcon 8, a commercial eight-rotor drone developed by Ascending Technologies. Intel had worked with the startup before buying it earlier this year.

Intel officials see their products—from processors to software like the 3D RealSense technology—as good fits for drones.

The company also has shown how drones can be used for entertainment purposes, setting a world record earlier this year by putting 100 drones into the air simultaneously, all of which were controlled by a single pilot.

Now Intel is taking that aspect of drones even further. The chip maker on Nov. 4 unveiled a new drone designed specifically for such light shows, and announced that the company in October had set a new Guinness World Record by having 500 of the drones—called the Intel Shooting Star—in the air at the same time, again being controlled by a single pilot.

Most drones currently being used for commercial purposes are focused on such work as inspections and mapping, according to Natalie Cheung, director of marketing and light show business development in Intel's UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Group. With Shooting Star and the demonstration in Germany with the 500 drones, Intel officials want to show how drones can be used for entertainment purposes, Cheung told eWEEK.

"It's a very different perspective of drones," she said, adding that it was "mind-blowing" to see what 500 lit drones looked like lighting up the night sky.

In a post on the company blog, Anil Nanduri, vice president in Intel's New Technology Group and general manager of unmanned aviation systems for the Perceptual Computing Group, wrote that "with this drone, we will be able to demonstrate that drone light shows can redefine entertainment and create amazing new experiences in the night sky."

The Shooting Star quadcopter is fairly unique, Cheung said. It's been designed for safety—it's made of foam and plastic, uses LED lights, has cages around the propellers and uses geofencing to limit where it flies. It weighs about half a pound, and is about 15 inches long and just over 3 inches high, she said. Intel uses algorithms to place the drones and determine flight paths.

The drone market—for both consumers and business users—is expected to grow rapidly. In a recent report on the general state of aviation in the United States, the FAA earlier this year predicted that by 2020, about 4.3 million UAVs will be sold to consumers and another 2.7 million will be sold to businesses for commercial use.

Cheung said Intel officials can see multiple commercial uses for the Shooting Star drones, from fireworks-like displays during large public events to in-sky advertising.

Along with the Shooting Star drone and new world record, Intel this past week also announced it bought MAVinci, a German drone company known for its flight planning software.

"With this transaction, we are gaining expertise in flight planning software algorithms and also fixed-wing drone design capabilities that complement the technology and knowledge Intel previously acquired from Ascending Technologies," Nanduri wrote. "This new acquisition will play a key role in providing solutions for industries such as agriculture, insurance, construction, mining and more."