The 2018-2024 Olympic games promise new levels of experiences as Intel Corp. has announced that it will be bringing virtual reality, 5G cellular and drones to the event. Intel has become the thirteenth partner of the games, the fifth tech partner after Alibaba, GE, Panasonic and its closest rival, Samsung.

The events will showcase Intel’s work in a handful of emerging technologies including live streaming video with its 360-degree cameras, 5G and machine learning. As part of an event announcing the deal, Intel broadcast a video stream from its headquarters using one of its prototype 28GHz 5G base stations. Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich promised, “whole new ways fans and athletes can view and participate in the games…Around the world there are millions and millions of people who have never had a chance to go to the Olympics, and our goal is to bring it to anyone.

“This is not just about flops per watt in some device somewhere, it’s about changing the experience and bringing it to more people…[with] more compelling and immersive experiences,” he added.

The partnership makes sense for Intel at a time when the company is seeking an identity as a technology leader apart from the slumping PC. Krzanich has showcased the company’s work on VR, 360-degree video and drones regularly in past keynotes and professional sports events.

Burnishing the company profile is particularly strategic at a time of slowing growth and consolidation in the semiconductor industry. With the current rise in prices of memory chips, rival Samsung may surpass Intel this year for the first time as the largest chip maker in the world.

Intel’s 3D video, newly branded True VR, is one of the highlights of the deal. The company will bring the capability to 16 live and 16 on-demand games including ski jumping and figure skating at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

VR headsets let users choose angles from which they watch an event in stereoscopic 3D. It supports live streaming and digitally computing an angle such as hovering over a favorite player.

True VR uses a network of up to 38 360-degree cameras, each using a dozen high definition 5K cameras. Mobile production units stitch the streams into 180-degree images and uploads them t a data center for live streaming.

The Olympics marks an extension of the technology for Intel. It has already offered the capability at select NCAA basketball, National Football League and Major League Baseball events in the U.S.

20170628_Intel_Krzanich Figure 1: Krzanich showing an ultralight drone Intel will use for light shows.

Intel currently supports True VR on Samsung Gear VR headsets. This year, it will add support for other smartphone-based VR systems such Android Daydream and “at least one tethered system,” said Krzanich.

“There is still a debate about which [tethered VR system] has the largest footprint. The installed base is continuing to grow,” he said in response to a press question. The company is layering into True VR machine-learning capabilities such as being able to pick and compare player stats. True VR “is an infant project that will grow very quickly,” he said.

Separately, Intel demoed coordinated flight of 100 drones in November 2015. It has been expanding the capability, adding more drones with greater coordination to create novel light displays at events in Australia, the U.S. and Europe.

The drones weigh less than a pound each, carry LEDs capable of displaying four billion colors and can act out scripts to show animated effects. “We want to replace fireworks with something safer and more inventive,” said Krzanich.

Some drones carry cameras users can access to view live streams with VR headsets. An Olympics executive said drone flight paths would be carefully planned to avoid collisions with athletes. Drones carrying large cameras will include collision avoidance software, added Krzanich.

Intel opted for a deal through 2024 because “it was a good starting point for both sides to test the partnership…and eight years was about as far as we can see into the future,” Krzanich said.

Talks with the International Olympics Committee started after CES in January. “It has been like running a marathon and a 100-yard dash together getting to this moment,” he said at the event.

20170628_Intel_Krzanich_Bach Figure 2: Bach presenting Krzanich with an Olympi torch.

At the event, Thomas Bach, president of the IoC, surprised Krzanich by presenting him with an Olympic torch and inviting him to be one of the torch bearers at the 2018 games. “Wow, I’ll start training as soon as I get home,” quipped Krzanich.