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Elon Musk’s brother buys Intel’s fireworks-replacing drone biz

Yet another sign x86 giant has moved past Krzanich era to focus on core chip businesses

As Intel tries to enact an ambitious comeback plan, the semiconductor giant has been offloading some divisions that aren't key to its core chipmaking business. The latest to get shunted off is the company's PR-friendly drone-powered light-show business, and the buyer is… Elon Musk's brother.

Yes, that's right: Kimbal Musk has acquired Intel Drone Light Shows through his new company Nova Sky Stories, which he formed after apparently being brought to tears last year by the sight of light drones forming the titular "man" of the Burning Man festival at an unofficial gathering after the official annual event was canceled.

While Musk doesn't mention Intel by name in a June announcement of Nova Sky Stories, the website for Intel's drone light-show business says it has been bought by K. Musk's company.

Just to be certain, we asked Intel, and the chipmaker told us on Tuesday that Nova Sky Stories has acquired "certain assets" of Intel's drone light-show business. The sale price was not disclosed.

pat gelsinger

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Intel further confirmed to us that it no longer has any drone operations. This means that the company at one point got rid of its commercial drone division, which focused on things like inspections, land surveying, and mapping. We don't know what happened to this part of the business.

What Not-Elon Musk's announcement does make clear is that Nova Sky Stories' acquisition included 9,000 Intel light drones that have been used for various events, such as the Olympic Games and Super Bowl halftime shows. These light drones have popped up in lieu of traditional fireworks, which we suspect that young parents and owners of cats and dogs approve of. The software-coordinated, light-up drones form shapes and objects in the sky, simulate firework displays, and so forth.

"They are equipped with the best hardware and software ever created and are the same drones that inspired millions of people during the Olympic Games and the Super Bowl halftime shows," Kimbal Musk wrote.

Musk's team is made up in part by former Intel drone employees. Most notably, this includes Daniel Gurdan, who was co-founder and CEO of the Ascending Technologies drone startup that became the basis of the chipmaker's drone efforts when it was acquired in 2016.

The offloading of Intel's drone display business is yet another sign that the x86 giant has moved on from the era of its former CEO, Brian Krzanich, who expanded the corporation's purview into several far out areas beyond its core CPU focus, including virtual reality, wearables, and drones.

Krzanich, Intel's sixth CEO, was forced out by the company's board in 2018 for having a "past consensual relationship" with an employee. During his time as CEO and after, the company has ejected or wound down several businesses that were developed under his leadership.

This includes:

  • Intel Sports, which the company sold a part of to Verizon in 2021 while shutting down the other half;
  • Intel RealSense, which is only a shell of its former self after Intel discontinued most of the group's computer vision products last year;
  • Intel Studios, which was the "world's largest" volumetric stage for augmented and virtual reality projects until it was canned in 2020;
  • Intel's wearables business, which was shut down in 2017, a little less than a year after the company issued a recall for its Basis Peak smartwatch due to overheating issues;
  • And Intel's smart glasses business, which shut down in 2018 before Intel sold the associated technologies to an AR startup called North, which was later acquired by Google.

What has driven Intel's most recent divestment is a directive from CEO Pat Gelsinger to focus on its core businesses: CPUs for PCs and datacenters, plus graphics chips and other kinds of accelerators, networking silicon, and the company's revitalized foundry business.

Last year, Gelsinger told CRN he would look to offload any businesses that didn't align with the company's core focus areas as he tries to restore Intel's leadership reputation after years of manufacturing missteps.

Intel's Tuesday statement to The Register reaffirmed the company is still culling anything not deemed necessary to Gelsinger's comeback plan.  

"This transaction further aligns Intel's business with its semiconductor manufacturing strategy laid out just over a year ago, and will further enable the company to continue to focus on the execution of this strategy," a company spokesperson said. ®

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