The technology, invented by Intel, allows a single pilot to operate hundreds of drones at once.
Disney will send 300 drones into the air every night over Orlando, Florida this winter to create a holiday-themed light show in the night sky.
The entertainment giant is using Intel’s Shooting Star drone, designed to fly in unison with hundreds of other drones, all controlled by a single operator.
Intel unveiled its tiny (less than a pound) drone earlier this month after a flying 500 of the unmanned aircraft simultaneously over a town outside of Munich, Germany, breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for most drones operated one person.
In August, after the Federal Aviation Administration released the drone rules for commercial operators, Intel was granted a waiver to fly an unlimited amount of its Shooting Star drones per pilot at night over any uncontrolled airspace in the country.
Flying drones at night is otherwise illegal under FAA drone rules. Disney has also been granted an FAA waiver to fly drones over its parks.
Although the technology worked safely with 500 aircraft in the record-breaking German flight, launching 300 drones every night month after month is a lot of flying for that many drones.
If one of the unmanned aircraft does fail, Natalie Cheung, director of drones marketing at Intel, says the pilot has the ability to select any individual drone to turn it off or make it fly home. And for the Disney lightshow, the drone fleet is flying over a lake, so any drone that stopped working in midair would fall into the water.
Unlike Intel’s commercial drones, which have a collision avoidance camera system to detect and route around obstacles, the Shooting Star drones don’t talk to each other. They only communicate with the pilot over radio control.
As a company that’s better known for its chips and microprocessors, Intel’s ambitions with its push into drones aren’t clear. While Intel’s commercial-grade Falcon 8 quadcopter is in use in Europe and their RealSense collision avoidance is available for consumers to toy with inside Yuneec’s Typhoon H drone, Intel hasn’t yet announced how the Shooting Star is going to come to market beyond the Disney light show. Not that the company hasn’t been thinking about where else the fleet technology might end up.
“We can see the multiple drones per pilot technology being implemented not just in light shows, but also in commercial applications,” said Cheung. “If you inspect a bridge, if you can have more than one drone to do it, you have a faster way of inspecting the bridge. If you were doing search and rescue and you have one drone out there searching for you, it’s much better to have a fleet of drones searching.”
Disney’s drone show will fly twice a night this Winter at their Disney Springs resort in Orlando, with the first show slated for this evening. Each Shooting Star is capable of four billion light combinations, can travel at around 22 miles per hour and fly in light rain.
Watch Intel’s record-breaking flight with 500 drones in the air simultaneously under the control of a single pilot.