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drone light show super bowl

If you were watching Super Bowl LI (or 51, for those of us who don’t know Roman numerals), you likely saw a special effect that was indeed pretty special.

As Lady Gaga began her performance, what at first appeared to be colored stars filled the sky behind her. And then – they began to move in perfect unison. At one point they even formed the red white and blue American flag.

300 Lighted Drones

It was a swarm of 300 lighted drones that Intel has shown off before, pulling off highly choreographed shows at Disney and in Australia. But this was new. This was – or at least so it appeared – a live performance in front of not just the Super Bowl audience, but also some 160 million television viewers.

Here’s a glimpse of what they saw:

Now, you may have heard that the FAA declared the stadium a “No Drone Zone” – and that in fact there is a wide exclusion zone around the stadium for UAVs. That’s all true.

And so, according to Wired magazine, what was seen during the Superbowl was actually recorded earlier in the week, and with special FAA permission. It was then intercut to appear is though it were happening real-time.

Drone Light Show

The drone light show is a pretty cool thing. Intel has created foam-core drones that can be operated as a coordinated swarm by a single person with a laptop. They’re also supposedly capable of creating four billion color combinations with their onboard LEDs, which is way more than you would ever want to count.

Intel has previously set a record for flying 500 of these at once in Australia, which was at the time the greatest number of UAVs flown at once.

“The drone itself is a completely new drone. This is the Intel Shooting Star,” explained Natalie Cheung, light show business lead, in a video Intel released in November.

“It’s made to be lightweight – it has a propeller cage so that we can ensure everything is done safely and securely.

Whenever they fly this “fleet,” Intel obtains special permission with local authorities.

“And it has been designed where two people can actually operate it by themselves,” says Anil Nanduri, VP of Intel’s UAV group. “Why two people? Because you need one person for back-up.

The Intel Shooting Star can’t take pictures, can’t fly for an extended range, and can’t really do most of the things a consumer drone does.

However, put it up against a night sky – and it’s pretty impressive.

“All this drone can do is light up the sky,” says Daniel Gurdan, light show engineering lead in that November Video. “But this is something it can do really, really well.”

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