NBA All-Star Aaron Gordon Slams Historic Intel Drone-Assisted Dunk

drone dunk
by Ken Kaplan
Executive Editor
, iQ by Intel

Tech-savvy basketball star teamed up with Intel to take bounce pass from drone at the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Aaron Gordon embraced technology and creativity at an early age. Today, the Orlando Magic forward uses his interest in innovation to push his All-Star basketball career to new heights. Gordon’s latest Intel drone-assisted shot confirmed his position as one of the greatest all-time slam dunk champions.

It happened on February 18 during the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest, which was part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Gordon teamed up with Intel to wow fans with a surprising slam dunk assisted by a drone. Perhaps the most highly-technical dunk ever completed during the slam dunk contest, Gordon’s bounce pass, drone-assisted dunk was a dazzling follow up to last year’s unforgettable aerial-acrobatic slam dunk assisted by the Magic’s furry team mascot, Stuff.

“I’m from the Silicon Valley so I’m very tech oriented,” said Gordon. “I wanted to do something creative and unique.”

As the 6-foot-9-inch tall Gordon walked into position for his first dunk of the contest, he was stripped of the ball by Stuff, who pointed overhead to the approaching Intel drone, with a basketball dangling from its underbelly.  As it neared the basket, the Intel drone dropped the ball in a perfectly placed bounce pass to Gordon, who drove it to the hoop. After three missed attempts, Gordon was given a fourth try. He took the drop pass as he moved to the hoop, moving the ball under his legs from his left hand to his right before dunking it with power and grace.

The crowd went wild.

Gordon competed against NBA All-Star DeAndre Jordan of the LA Clippers, Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns and Glenn Robinson III of the Indiana Pacers. They faced off in the two rounds of daredevil dunks in front of five judges, who scored every dunk on a scale of 6 to 10. The two players with the highest combined score for their two dunks advanced to the head-to-head final round. Gordon scored 38 from the judges, which put him in last place in the dunk contest, but it was daring and innovative nonetheless.

“There was a span of time where the dunk contest got watered down because people weren’t very creative or were very gimmicky,” said Gordon before the contest. “To me, originality is key.  I want to be able to do something that no one has ever seen before.”

“It was another example of sports merging with tech,” said Carlton Myers, Vice President of Live Production and Entertainment for the NBA.

“I’ve been doing All Stars since 1996, involved with the dunk contest since about 2003, and this is the first time we’ve done something like this,” Myers said.

Some say Gordon’s flair for technology came from his mother, Shelly Davis Gordon, an Intel employee who has worked in the semiconductor industry for 35 years.

“He’s smart, goofy and driven,” she said of her son. “Aaron gets traits from me like kind of the nerdy side. He likes to read, learn and explore things.”

She said her son blends his passion for basketball with his curiosity for technology. Outside the game, he helped develop an app call Lucid: Mental Training For Athletes and he’s working on a new VR experience.

“It’s helping him play basketball and it has helped other athletes as well.”

drone dunk
NBA star Aaron Gordon takes an Intel drone-assisted bounce pass during the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest as part of 2017 All-Star Weekend at the Smoothie King Center. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Intel-powered drone is a fully-redundant hexicopter, designed to automatically adjust against any single point of failure. The drone has a flight time of up to 26 minutes, weighs just under 11 pounds and can carry a payload of up to 4.4 pounds.

After analyzing payload and flight time requirements, the custom claw was built of carbon fiber, milled to match the frame of the Intel drone. It took about two months to fully develop, test and complete the drone in time for the dunk contest.

“You can’t see it, but three stacks of microcontrollers and the Intel Curie module help power this beast,” said pilot Austin Smith. His team added communications capabilities so the drone’s claw can be controlled from more than a mile away.

Drone-Assisted Dunk
Intel drone holding a basketball above the hoop at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Tyler Kaufman/NBAE via Getty Images)

It takes three people to operate the drone, with an additional technician standing by, and precise coordination with Gordon to pull off the drone-assisted dunk.

Could this drone-assist dunk raise the bar for technology’s role in next year’s dunk contest?


Editor’s note: Read more stories about drones and learn about Intel technologies driving drone innovation.

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