How did the Opening Ceremony’s drone show work?

How did the Opening Ceremony’s drone show work?

Drone Olympic SymbolIf you’re like me, you were watching the Opening Ceremony last night, and you were utterly blown away by the light show at the end. And no, I’m not talking about just any light show. This was a light show made by some 1,218 drones coming together to make one shape. Only in South Korea.

This show was similar to the one at the 2017 Lady Gaga super bowl halftime show, except this one had four times as many drones! So the question on everyone’s minds is: “How on earth did they make this work?”

How it Works

Well, it’s actually simpler than you’d think. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to have 1,218 people individually controlling each drone. So instead, the Pyeongchang show made use of Intel’s Shooting Star drone system. Without getting into the super techy aspect of it, it consists of a ton of tiny, 1-foot drones, each of which has a light (obviously).

Shooting Star Drone

Then, an animator creates a photo or animation of what they want the drones to do, and each drone is assigned a part to play. For example, when Intel wanted to make that snowboarder in the sky, they used a picture of a real snowboarder. And using Intel’s platform, each drone acts as a sort of pixel to the picture. Just like the pixels on your computer are “moving around” as you scroll through this page, in the same way the drones move to form the image.

Drone Snowboarder

Once the animation is set, the drones act individually, receiving their “orders” from a central computer. Before the show begins, the computer analyzes each factor of each drone (battery life, range, etc.) to determine which part it will play. These drones can fly for about 20 minutes, which is pretty impressive.

What they did about the Weather

Since conditions are cold in South Korea, Intel had to first test the drone show in Finland to make sure the drones were able to handle the cold. Since they use common Lithium-Ion batteries (which aren’t supposed to go below freezing, if it can be helped), this was a big issue. Also, due to the tiny frame of the drones, the wind might have been an issue.

All of these risks factored into a decision to record the show beforehand, in case there was bad weather the night of the Opening Ceremony. Nevertheless, it was an unbelievable work of technology, and it drove the point home that the entire Ceremony had been making: The Future will only get better.

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