Disney and Intel announced on Wednesday that they have partnered up to make the holidays a little more fanciful by flying 300 drones with twinkling lights over the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The display is sure to delight onlookers — even if it was likely inspired by research into drone swarms conducted by U.S. Navy technologists.
This holiday show is made possible by small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) called Shooting Star drones. Intel says that the quadcopter weighs less than a volleyball and comes equipped with LED lights that can create 4 billion color combinations. But the real draw is that all 300 of the Shooting Star drones used in the show will be controlled from a single computer.
Intel isn’t the only one trying to figure out how to control many UAVs at once. The Office of Naval Research revealed Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) in 2015 to achieve a similar goal, with the biggest difference being that LOCUST was limited to 30 drones at a time and would “light up” battlefields instead of the holiday sky.
University of Genova researchers also want to use drone swarms in search-and-rescue operations, for example, and Arizona State University is working on mind-controlled UAVs that can be flown in groups of four at a time.
Still, this show will mark the first time drones have put on a show this large in the United States. Such is the evolution of modern tech: From the U.S. military working to find the future of war, to universities trying to save lives after natural disasters, to corporations “picturing the sky as our canvas and flying lights as ink” for the holidays. (And then, naturally, a supervillain controlling a swarm of UAVs with naught but their mind.)
Let’s just hope that these capabilities don’t make their way to the consumer market. Or, if they do, that someone will copy the military’s Phaser so we can all use microwave guns to shoot drone swarms out of the sky. Nothing says “happy holidays” like an arms race between hundreds of twinkling UAVs and a tool to bring them down.