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Drone Presence at Super Bowl LIII Breaks Records and Sets New Precedent for Drone Use at Major Public Events

BY Isabella Lee
6 February 2019

Drones were present in a variety of forms at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia last week. Tethered quadcopters provided an added layer of security while pre-programmed drones lit up the sky during the halftime show. Present in record-breaking numbers, drones at the NFL championship game set a new precedent for unmanned aerial systems at major public events.

Intel SBLIII Drones

Image Source: Intel

The Super Bowl provided the drone industry an opportunity to showcase positive uses of drones to protect and even to entertain large gatherings of people. Also, federal officials demonstrated their ability to take down any drones that posed a risk to event attendees. Below, we talk about two drone use cases at the Super Bowl that advanced the industry’s pursuit to make drones regular participants in large-scale, public events and the restrictions put in place to deter any illegal drone operations.

Intel Drones Entertain at the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Intel Corporation partnered with the NFL to create a live drone light show during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show.

As Maroon 5 began the song “She Will Be Loved,” 150 enhanced Intel Shooting Star drones floated up and over the field in a choreographed performance to the music to form the words “ONE” and “LOVE.”

In a historic performance, this was the first live drone light show to ever take place during a Super Bowl halftime show. Intel previously conducted a drone light show for Super Bowl LI in 2017 during Lady Gaga’s halftime performance, but the drones were not flying live.

When we received the opportunity to bring our drone light show technology back to the Super Bowl, we were excited by the challenge to execute it live and within a closed stadium environment. We collaborated with the show producers, both creatively and technically, to bring a special and unique show experience to the viewers.

—Anil Nanduri, VP and General Manager, Intel Drone Group

Intel enhanced the Intel Shooting Star drones specifically for the halftime show to emulate the experience of floating lanterns. The drones were enabled to successfully fly a pre-programmed path inside a closed stadium environment without GPS.

In an all-around record-breaking performance, the 150 drones flown indoors exceeded the world record that Intel previously set flying 110 indoor drones at CES in 2018. You can view the show in the video below.

Intel Drones Light Up Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Skyfire Drones Add Security at Super Bowl LIII

Skyfire, public safety UAS experts, in coordination with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and a team of pilots, security experts and software partners, deployed two tethered drones high above Atlanta—overlooking the events surrounding the Suber Bowl—at the ready in case of an emergency.

Each drone was flown to a maximum altitude of 200 feet above ground and was secured and powered by a tether system. The drones flew just a few hundred feet below Black Hawk helicopters also securing the event. Law enforcement officers were able to view the drones’ live video stream at command centers in over a dozen locations.

Skyfire Drone Super Bowl LIII

Image Source: Skyfire

In the past, aerial surveillance of a large-scale event like the Super Bowl would’ve been gathered by helicopter. Drones provide a unique solution, allowing law enforcement to monitor areas that are inaccessible or unsafe for large aircraft.

Veteran law enforcement and counter-terrorism specialist Mike Briant was a part of the security team that used drones to secure Super Bowl LIII. Briant discussed the benefits of using drones to secure large events.

Real-time, actionable information for the guys on the ground is essential and allows you to respond much more quickly to a critical incident than you could having to rely on traditional aviation assets. The drones allow security specialists to spot unusual behavior long before they reach the main venue.

—Mike Briant, Counter-terrorism Specialist, Skydas Group

The team worked closely with the State of Georgia’s air operations support center and was in constant communication with the FAA and the FBI to ensure the safety of the operation.

Deterring Illegal Drone Activity at Super Bowl LIII

Prior to the game, the FAA established a temporary flight restriction (TFR) around the stadium and issued a statement letting drone pilots know that Atlanta is a “No Drone Zone,” during Super Bowl LIII.

Drone flights were restricted beginning on January 31, three days before the big game. Unauthorized drones were not allowed to fly within one nautical mile around the stadium up to an altitude of 1,000 feet. On game day, February 3, that restriction grew tighter, banning drones from flying within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the stadium up to 17,999 feet in altitude.

Perhaps some didn’t get the message, or they blatantly disregarded it. Pilots and drone operators were warned that those who entered the TFRs without permission could face civil penalties that exceed $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.

Still, the FBI said on Friday that security officials at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium had already confiscated at least six drones operating in the TFR.

As a professional drone pilot, it is essential to keep track of airspace status and temporary flight restrictions. While the majority of drone operators take measures to fly safely and responsibly, there are still some that do not. You can stay informed on TFRs by checking the FAA’s TFR list.

Beyond the handful of illegal drones confiscated before the game, Suber Bowl LIII provided an opportunity to highlight the positive rewards of involving drones in large-scale, public events. Intel’s light show and Skyfire’s security drones demonstrate the value this technology has to offer from entertainment to public safety.

Share your thoughts on the drone presence at Super Bowl LIII in this thread on our community forum.

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