Robots are walking, crawling and flying into the future. And Dallas has opened the doors of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center to them for Xponential, a three-day event put on by the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich entered the stage for the event's first keynote speech riding on a Segway Intel has converted into a robot. After counting on the vehicle's onboard sensors to avoid obstacles, the CEO stepped off and commanded that it get him some water. After a pithy, subservient reply, the robot later returned with a cooler.
Intel is heavily involved in robotics, and it makes sense. Robots both consume and produce data, and these terabytes of information will have to be processed if it's to be any use to humans. Any way you slice it, the future of robotics will lie in advanced computer chips. But not content to just make the chips, Intel has bought promising drone companies to make sure they can sell customers products that are ready for the real world. In other words, a firm that wants to inspect bridges with a drone won't want to custom-make the hardware or train pilots, but simply install the right sensors and fly with a button click. Intel wants what they call an "end-to-end solution" to sell them.
But acceptance is a critical part of tech adoption, and that's where the light shows come in. Intel has flown more than 100 "Shooting Star" drones over places like the Super Bowl and Coachella to help show that flying robots are good for things besides dropping bombs and cluttering up protected airspace.
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In Dallas, 10 quadcopters performed a synchronized routine inside the convention center, flashing LED lights that can create over 4 billion color combinations. The swarm can be programmed for any animation; the more drones you use, the farther away you have to be to see the shapes they are forming. Intel broke the record with a 500-drone swarm in November.
Still, seeing 10 careen around a fake bridge is pretty cool, and made cooler because it's the Intel’s first indoor light show featuring the Shooting Stars. The drones are equipped with visual sensors that keep them out of each other's way as they fly and preserve the pattern needed for the display, no GPS needed. The implications for rescues after disasters and mapping should be evident, as is the chance that these could search a building instead of an officer or police dog.
During the presentation, Krzanich had a drone deliver the device he used to advance the slides of his presentation. The drop was on target but the keys bounced put of his hands. "The human was the only part that didn't work right," he quipped. How you feel about that comment likely informs how you react to a video of drones smart enough to fly in formations inside a convention hall.