Intel Will Fly a Fleet of Drones in California to Celebrate July 4th

Corporation partners with Travis Air Force Base

Intel will fly 500 choreographed drones over an Air Force base in California tomorrow night. Intel
Headshot of Marty Swant

Who needs fireworks when you have drones?

To celebrate Independence Day—and show off its own technology in the process—Intel is planning a drone-powered light show tomorrow night in northern California. The stunt, set to take place in collaboration with Travis Air Force Base, will replace the base’s usual display of fireworks. Intel said the performance will take place from 9 to 10 p.m. PST and will be open to the public for a “limited number of guests.”

According to Intel, the event will feature 500 drones flying with red, white and blue color schemes while creating something that’s “reflective of traditional July Fourth firework displays.” The event is also meant to celebrate the base’s 75th anniversary while also raising awareness of how drones can be a more environmentally friendly way of celebration the holiday.

In a b-roll video of Intel’s rehearsal, the drones, indeed, appear to resemble actual fireworks with some of their shapes, like small particles falling to the ground after bursting in air. Others take a different patriotic route, taking the shape of a flag waving in the wind. The video also provides a short look at how Intel’s team programs the performance both on a computer screen and in real life.

“While fireworks amaze audiences of all ages, there are pollution and safety concerns, and the loud sound effects are sometimes unsettling to humans and animals alike,” Nanduri said in a statement. “This partnership showcases how Intel’s advanced drone technologies are making strides to positively impact the world and create new entertainment experiences for all audiences.”

While this is the first time Intel has used its Shooting Star drones during the July 4th holiday, it’s just the latest in a series of performances over the past two years—many of which have appeared during high-profile events, such as when a fleet flew with Lady Gaga during the Super Bowl LI Halftime Show, the Coachella Music Festival and the 2018 Winter Olympics. (While Intel’s pre-recorded show featuring 1,200 drones at the Winter Olympics was broadcast on television, a live show in South Korea was canceled at the last minute because of bad weather.)

For each performance, the drones are pre-programmed using Intel’s software so that the choreography can be automated. In the case of the Olympics, the drones’ formations resembled thematic outlines of a snowboarder, a dove and the Olympic rings. According to Intel, the drones have as many as 4 billion color combinations built into the LED lights.

“You’ve got to think of what the Intel Shooting Star system is designed for, and it’s one thing: to light up the night sky,” Anil Nanduri, vp and general manager of Intel’s drone group, told Adweek in February.

In an interview ahead of the Olympics, Nanduri said the machines had already performed in more than 170 shows in Asia, the U.S. and other countries. (Intel has permits to fly within one mile of an international airport.)

Since the drones aren’t available to the public for purchase, it’s unclear exactly what kind of marketing case Intel makes with all this fancy flying. However, each does allow the company to show off its software and data-processing capabilities. According to Nanduri, it took as much as 18 terabytes of data to fly the fleet in February when it broke the Guinness World Record with 1,200 drones flying at once.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.