Super Bowl Drones Weren’t Flying Live, but Still Made for a Historic Night

BY Alan Perlman
6 February 2017

Superbowl drones 2017

Image Source

The drones that appeared at the Super Bowl yesterday, both as a backdrop to Lady Gaga’s halftime performance (pictured above), and later for a 10-second spot where the Intel logo phased into the Pepsi logo, were not actually flying live.

At the start of her halftime performance Lady Gaga appeared in front of a swirling background of light, standing on the roof of Houston’s NRG Stadium. She then jumped into the air, seeming to dropping down to the stadium to start her show.

But the drones didn’t follow her down to the stage. And in fact, they weren’t physically present at the time she was performing.

The drones were not allowed to fly over NRG stadium due to restrictions placed on the airspace over it by the FAA:

Temporary Flight Restrictions will prohibit certain aircraft operations, including unmanned aircraft operations, or drones, within a 34.5-mile radius of NRG Stadium in downtown Houston, Texas on game day. The restrictions will be in effect from 4 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5.

How Did They Pull It Off?

The FAA was reportedly open to lifting the drone ban for the Super Bowl performance itself, but it turns out those in charge of the performance decided not to take them up on it.

The reason those in charge decided not to do the drone show live had to do with a combination of factors, including the weather and environmental issues. Wind speeds in February were thought to be potentially unpredictable, and the possibility of rain was also a factor in the decision.

Despite the fact that the drone show wasn’t done live at the Super Bowl, Lady Gaga was there on the roof of the stadium for the filming, so that aspect of the performance was done “live” in the sense that she was present while the drones were being flown behind her.

Intel worked on the drone light show over several days, using 300 of their Shooting Star drones, with the main shot done on January 30.

“We were on site for nine days, so we got the proper waivers to fly in Class C airspace up to 700 feet. We got the waivers to do this at night with multiple drones per pilot through the FAA. We were testing out our drones, tweaking our animations throughout this whole process, and we filmed for one night, and it was perfect.”

– Natalie Cheung, General Manager at Intel Drones

In case you missed it, here is the second drone appearance from last night, where drones first create the Intel logo then phase into the Pepsi logo.

About Intel’s Shooting Star Drones

The light show was done using Intel’s Shooting Star drones, which have made headlines recently by being used at Disney in place of fireworks. (Disney has moved pretty quickly in their partnership with Intel—not too long ago they were talking about using 3DR drones to do light shows with “flixels” or flying pixels.)

The Shooting Star is a quadcopter drone created by Intel strictly for the purpose of putting on light shows.

In November, Intel released a video of 500 Shooting Star drones putting on a light show in Sydney, a big advance from previous efforts that had included only 100 drones.

The Shooting Star comes with software created to automate the live animation process, so that the “drone horde” or “drone flock” flies as one single entity, despite being fragmented into hundreds of discrete machines.

According to Intel, light shows that used to take weeks to plan and orchestrate can now be ready in a matter of days using the Shooting Star. The logistics for execution are also much simpler, since only one pilot (that’s right—just one!) is required to run everything.

The LED light embedded in each drone can shine in any of 4 billion combinations, so the possibilities are basically endless when it comes to the types of light shows these new drones can enable.

By taking the lead with these light show-focused drones, Intel has again set itself at the head of the pack when it comes to industry innovation.

A Historic Night

Although Intel had already logged a historic flight with the Shooting Star drones in November, the use of drones in the Super Bowl is historic for a few reasons.

For one, we’ve never seen this kind of show before, and we can only imagine that mainstreaming these kinds of light shows by using them in a venue as huge as the Super Bowl is going to usher in a new age of drone light shows. Maybe in several years these kinds of shows may even seem old hat, but for now they are brand new, and exciting.

Two more reasons last night was historic have to do with the FAA yet again setting a precedent regarding the reasonable application of regulations, and with the general acceptance of drones by the public at large.

Due to privacy concerns, to their use by the military, and to a general lack of education, drones have been vilified in some public discourses.

Last night showed the world that drones can be used to do some pretty neat stuff. And it also showed that the FAA, yet again, is more than willing to be reasonable when it comes to applying its regulations.

We say huzzah to that, and to helping everyone understand that drones are used to help—and to delight—people all the time, in all kinds of ways.

We’ll close this article out with the full video of Lady Gaga’s performance last night. Gaga, you can take it from here.

Alan Perlman

Founder & CEO

Alan is an FAA-certified drone pilot and founded UAV Coach in 2014 to help connect drone enthusiasts, to provide world-class sUAS industry training courses, and to help push the drone community forward with a focus on safety and commercial opportunities.

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