The technology behind the Opening Ceremony’s record-setting drone show


One of the lasting visuals from the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics was the presentation of the Olympic rings. A giant snowboarder materialized in the air above the darkened slopes before mystically morphing into the iconic intertwined rings. 

Bay Area-based tech company Intel accomplished the feat using 1,218 drones, setting a record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously. But it didn’t come without its challenges. 

The original intent was to fly a pared-down fleet of drones live for the Opening Ceremnoy. However, last-minute logistics forced a change of plans resulting in the pre-recorded clip that was shown. 

“During the Ceremony, POCOG made the decision to not go ahead with the show because there were too many spectators standing in the area where the live drone show was supposed to take place,” the Olympic organizing committee said in a statement.

The tech company also faced obstacles of scale, jumping from their the 300 units in their standard light shows to well over 1,000 for the Olympics. And they had to deal with operating advanced technology in South Korea’s sub-zero temperatures and winter weather conditions.

The “stars” of the show are Intel’s Shooting Star drone, which can display white light as well as colors at varying levels of brightness. Each device also includes an on-board GPS and barometer to navigate and monitor weather conditions. 

What brings the whole show together, though, is the advanced software controlling the drones, which allows one pilot to fly the entire fleet.

Time will tell if the drones reappear for the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 25

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