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08 August 2017

Intel is getting ready to make 300 drones dance together in the night sky

On Wednesday evening, the sky above downtown Singapore will light up with 300 drones moving in formation.

The futuristic light show is planned to be the highlight of the country’s 52nd birthday celebration National Day Parade.

The LED-lit drones are coordinated to produce animation sequences in the sky, flying up to create sparkly logos and images like the Singapore map.

Here’s a preview of the show tomorrow:

The parade’s organisers have tapped Intel to provide the segment. It’s so important that the high-profile event goes well, that Intel’s global drone chief, Anil Nanduri, is flying in to make sure that it all takes off.

Speaking to Mashable on the eve of his flight here, Nanduri explained that Intel’s New Technology Group has come a long way in improving its light show drone system, named Shooting Star.

The foam drone weighs only 330g, so it won't hurt anyone if it falls.

The foam drone weighs only 330g, so it won’t hurt anyone if it falls.

“There’s considerably more operational complexity in handling a 300 drone fleet, compared with 100 drones in a show,” he said.

The drones are flying closer to each other, and need to be automated to know their place in relation to the other, for instance. And to make it possible for the drones to take off with one pilot controlling them, the system needs to be precise enough to control such a large swarm across a bigger expanse of airspace.

“It’s like juggling balls in your hand,” he explained. “You may be able to juggle three, but if you juggle nine, you may have to throw them higher and faster to get more time,” while being more precise in how you throw the next one.

It isn’t Intel’s first time at creating a 300 drone show. It just did that at Coachella this year.

And late last year, the team celebrated setting a Guinness World Record with a 500 drone spectacle in Germany.

GPS issue grounded the show last month

Still, there is a chance the show may not happen. Last month, during one of the parade rehearsals, the Intel fleet could not fly, because of a loss of GPS signal.

Nanduri said the GPS signal issue was beyond Intel’s control, but declined to specify what the problem was.

But that also means it may be out of Intel’s full control should the problem occur again tomorrow. 

A loss of GPS signal could be due to factors such as a heavily overcast day, with cloud cover blocking line-of-sight between the ground base and GPS satellites.

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