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Winter Olympics 2018: Inside the Opening Ceremonies Drone Show

Winter Olympics 2018: Inside the Opening Ceremonies Drone Show
From Wired - February 9, 2018

The opening ceremony of any Olympics provides pageantry at a global scale, a celebration that, at its best, can create moments every bit as indelible as the games themselves. In Pyeongchang, the curtain-raiser also includes a site never seen before: a record-setting 1,218 drones joined in a mechanical murmuration.

Drone shows like the one on display at the Pyeongchang Games have taken place before; you may remember the drone army that flanked Lady Gaga at last year's Super Bowl. But the burst of drones that filled the sky Friday nightor early morning, depending on where in the world you watchedcomprised four times as many fliers. Without hyperbole, there's really never been anything like it.

Shooting Stars

As at the Super Bowl, the Pyeongchang drone show comes compliments of Intel's Shooting Star platform, which enables a legion of foot-long, eight ounce, plastic and foam quadcopters to fly in sync, swooping and swirling along an animator's prescribed path.

"It's in essence technology meeting art," says Anil Nanduri, general manager of Intel's drone group.

In previous outings, that artistic expression has taken forms like a waving American flag at the Super Bowl, or a twirling Christmas tree at Disney's Starbright Holidays. The Pyeongchang production, as you might expect, includes more Olympic-themed animations, like a gyrating snowboarder and those iconic interlocking rings, all made possible by careful coding, and the four billion color combinations enabled by onboard LEDs. (If you missed the livestream, you can catch the whole thing on the NBC broadcast Friday night.)

"In order to create a real and lifelike version of the snowboarder with more than 1,200 drones, our animation team used a photo of a real snowboarder in action to get the perfect outline and shape in the sky," says Natalie Cheung, Intel's general manager of drone light shows.

As it turns out, bring 1,218 of those drones into harmony does not present much more of a logistical challenge than 300, thanks to how the Shooting Star platform works. After animators draw up the show using 3-D design software, each individual drone gets assigned to act as a kind of aerial pixel, filling in the 3-D image against the night sky.

And while more drones does provide a broader canvas, it perhaps more importantly affords a better sense of depth.

"What you have is a complete three-dimensional viewing space, so you can create lots of interesting effects and transformations when you use that full capability," says Nanduri. "It's aways easy to fly more drones for an animation and increase the perspective."

With the animation in place, each drone operates independently, communicating with a central computer rather than any of the drones around it. Just before takeoff, that computer also decides which drone plays what role, based on the battery levels and GPS strength of each member of the fleet.

Making It Work

Olympic Fever

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