Pursuit of Performance

A Spectacle of Light: Record-Breaking Drones Kick Off PyeongChang 2018

Intel drone light show team
by Deb Miller Landau
iQ Managing Editor

To the delight of amazed audiences around the world, Intel’s drone light show broke its own record at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremony.

Millions of television viewers tuned in to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremony in South Korea. Viewers around the world witnessed history coming to life as 1,218 Intel Shooting Star drones decorated the night sky, setting a Guinness World Records title for the most UAVs airborne simultaneously.

The pre-recorded event showed the drones simultaneously flying in a magical dance, choreographed to create shapes in a rainbow of colors, including the Olympic rings and a snowboarder.

“For the Olympics, we wanted to push our boundaries, bring the world something they’d never seen before,” said Natalie Cheung, general manager of the drone light show business, which is part of Intel’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Group.

Cheung’s team is used to pushing boundaries. Since 2015, the Intel drone lights shows have set two Guinness World Record titles for the most UAVs airborne simultaneously: 100 drones then 500.

For the Olympics, the goal was to challenge the team to see how far they could push themselves and the record by more than doubling their previous attempts. This led the team to attempt to fly over 1,200 in drones South Korea – ultimately taking the final number to 1,218. And setting their third Guinness World Records title.

Audiences on site will get to experience a live drone show throughout the games at the nightly Victory Ceremony.

Drone light show at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.
Intel is providing drone technology at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.

“We wanted to capture the best viewing experience for the millions watching across the world, but also bring the light show experience to the live audience on site,” said Rachel Padgett, marketing manager for the drone team.

How They Pulled it Off

For more than a year, members of Intel’s drone team across Finland, Germany, California and South Korea flew under the radar to test the top-secret mission to give Olympic Winter Games audiences the record-breaking show.

To test the drones in the harsh winter conditions expected in South Korea, a team member in Finland loaded 18 Intel Shooting Star drones into a family car and drove 12 hours north to a cold, remote village called Äkäslompolo.

In Germany, another team brought drones to the Alps, where they used a generator to simulate wind to check how it would affect cooling inside the drones.

“It was really important to test our technical capabilities before we went to Korea,” said Madeline Ong, program manager for the Intel drones team. “After all the testing and simulations, I had full confidence in the technology and my team.”

Ong and Cheung feel the excitement each time a fleet of drones takes to the skies.

“My favorite parts of the show are still the takeoff and landing because you see this whole cloud of drones basically dancing up into the sky,” said Ong. “But the best part is seeing the audience reactions, watching them gasp or applaud.”

Nabbing the Guinness World Records title is a thrill that Cheung said never gets old.

“It was kind of a blur. We knew it would work but there is always a bit of excitement and anticipation,” she said.

“It’s really something when you see over a thousand drones take off. I think about all the work it’s taken and it’s amazing to think how quickly we’ve gotten here.”


The drone light show has performed at Sydney, Australia’s 2016 Vivid Lights and Ideas festival, at Coachella in 2017, in Los Angeles celebrating the Wonder Woman home entertainment release, and most recently at the Bellagio during CES.

Rob Kelton contributed to this story.

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