TIME Magazine’s Drone Issue and the 958 UAVs That Created Its Cover

How Intel produced the magazine’s cover by flying 958 drones in formation.

TIME/Intel

Intel’s drone division just partnered with TIME to construct a magazine cover for the ages. Using 958 Intel Shooting Star drones, the tech company orchestrated a synchronized, color-coded, unmanned aerial display resembling the world-famous magazine’s masthead in the California sky, as part of its new special drone issue. 

According to the press release, this is the first time in the magazine’s 95-year history that an issue’s cover was shot via drone, an Astraeus Aerial drone, specifically. Intel’s team adhered to the Federal Aviation Administration’s 400-foot altitude limit and deployed this massive fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles above Folsom, California to create an animated 328-foot aerial version of the magazine’s cover aesthetic. 

The press release is clear about the absolute necessity to pull this off without a hitch, as the aerial display had to perfectly measure and adhere to the magazine cover’s physical design proportions. All of this was accomplished, by the way, despite the increased risk of in-flight collisions due to the fleet’s sheer size, as well as the harsh wind conditions on that particular evening in May. 

“The major challenge of this particular animation is the height at which we have to fly, and getting the resolution that we want in the TIME logo,” explains Intel’s animation lead, Tim Heath. “This animation is a hundred meters tall. Our ceiling is 400 feet. So we have to stay within that space. Normally we like to keep the drones about three meters apart from one another, but with this one we were a little bit limited on space, so we’re having to confine that down to 1.5 meters.”

If that sounds like a substantial decrease in safety and an increase in potential failure to you, you’re not wrong. “The risks are that they could collide with one another while in the air if it’s really gusty,” Heath confirmed. 

Intel was not only adamant to pull this extensive synchronization off, but to capture it via drone as well. It would, in a sense, be an incomplete piece of technical performance art, were a photographer to capture the end result, instead of a UAV.

“Not only did we want the border and logo made out of thousands of drones, but we also wanted to shoot that cover with a drone,” explained Creative Director at TIME, D.W. Pine. “In the history of TIME, in 95 years, we’ve never had a cover image that was shot by a drone camera.”  

The decision to use drones as part of a mainstream magazine issue confirms that we really are living in the drone age.

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