Intel and Disney paint the sky

The Shooting Star drones are basic. During the show the drones can fly within 1.5 meters of each other at a speed of 3 meters per second in winds up to 8 meters per second. They have a range of about 1.5 kilometers and a flight time of 20-22 minutes. They’re all controlled from a single radio antenna located next to the pilot. The drones do not communicate with each other.

The Shooting Star drone has a bright LED installed under the main housing. Encased in a plastic dome about the size of baseball, this LED is what allows the drones to put on a show.

Sadly I cannot show the most impressive part of the whole operation: 600 drones sitting in waiting on their launchpads. Intel didn’t want to talk about these pads so I know little outside of what I saw.

Six drones sit an inch apart on each launchpad. These pads are white and a few inches tall. They’re made of plastic and about 30- by 48-inches. The pads serve as a charging station and maybe a shipping container, too. A power wire appears to daisy chain each together and they sit a foot or two apart. The drones rest in divots designed to cup the round LED housing, which also features the charging contacts for the drones. Sit the drones in these little holes and they’re charging until they’re directed to take off.

The star of the show isn’t the drones; it’s the software.

And they take off, en masse. One after another, seemingly randomly throughout the cluster of launchpads. A quick moment separates each launch as the drones take their position in the air prior to the show. A drone takes about two minutes to get from the launchpads to its assigned location.

Drones do not have a specific location on a certain pad. The setup crew can place the drones in any of the launch locations. The custom software knows the location of each drone and can report back to the operator the overall health and specific information like battery level, location, and operating status.

The Shooting Stars do not return to their launch locations, though. The drones are subject to GPS limitations, which is not accurate enough to return the drones to their original spots. Instead, they land around the pads. I wasn’t allowed to see this operation though I’m told the drones land fairly close to their launch location.

Safety is a paramount concern and addressed in several ways. The operator’s software defines a geo-fenced area with two borders. If a drone crosses one line, it’s told to return to home. If it keeps going and crosses the second boundary, it’s automatically told to kill its motors, which would cause it to drop.

The drones themselves are light and simple. The props are enclosed in a wire metal housing. The prop arms are light plastic and the housing is styrofoam. It weighs 280 grams — about the weight of a volleyball.

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