Drone “Fireworks,” 5G communications, and Streaming VR Coming to Olympic Games

Drones glow like fireflies in a demo of Intel's drone light show technology
Photo: Intel
Drones dance like fireflies in a demo of Intel's drone light show technology

Who needs fireworks when you’ve got drones? Or event tickets when you’ve got virtual reality?

That’s Intel’s message as it prepares to bring technology to the 2018 Winter Olympics and future Olympic games.

The company today announced that it had joined the Olympics partner program as a major sponsor through 2024. No dollar figures were mentioned at the press event, held in New York City and via web conference, however, the rumor mill has been pegging the deal at nine figures, or somewhere over $100 million.

Intel was far more specific about the technologies it plans to deploy for the Olympics—drones, virtual reality, 5G communications, and artificial intelligence. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich suggested that Intel is also working with the Olympic committee to develop new training technology, but didn’t give details. Krzanich was joined by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who is clearly concerned about bringing young viewers to the games.

“Sports has to go where the people are,” he said, “and many people are leading a digital life.” Technology, he continued, “has a huge potential to connect the games with the young generation.”

Drones, according to Intel CEO Krzanich, will have two roles at the Olympics—entertainment, in the form of light shows, and to carry cameras for broadcast and other purposes. The ultralight entertainment drones, he indicated, will swarm the skies, acting as a safe and “more creative” replacement for traditional fireworks. These drones are so safe, he says, Intel staff members have launched a hundred at a time and purposely run into them. The heavier, camera-carrying drones, used to “measure and observe” athletes, will use obstacle avoidance technology still under development, Krzanich indicated.

On the VR front, Krzanich promised to bring two recently unveiled technologies to the 2018 Olympics. The company will stream 16 live and 16 on-demand events using the its True VR technology, which made its debut with the 2017 NCAA basketball playoffs. It will also showcase its 360-degree replay technology that recreates moments in events from the point of view of specific players, first used at the 2017 NFL Super Bowl.

As for 5G, Intel vice president Asha Keddy, along with the company’s 5G development team and Olympic three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, pushed a symbolic button to turn on Intel’s 5G test network in Silicon Valley, and promised a 5G network would be running throughout the venues of the 2018 Winter Olympics. That part of the announcement was live-streamed using the technology.

Artificial intelligence will, Krzanich expects, enable more detailed analysis and comparisons of player performances.

And going beyond the company’s current eight-year sponsorship deal, Krzanich said, Intel expects to have new technologies that are Olympic contenders, including more AI, deeper virtual experiences, and new roles for drones and autonomous vehicles.

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