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How Intel pulled off Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl drone spectacular

The NFL light show used 300 drones flying in perfect unison.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on Feb 6, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 1:33 am CDT

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance will be remembered for years to come, but it was the hundreds of drones that formed the stars, American flag, and Pepsi logo that had everyone curious.

Intel, the company that created the routine, used 300 Shooting Star light-emitting drones capable of producing up to four-billion color combinations. There was no CG involved, it was just hundreds of flying quadcopters running a choreographed dance routine.

And how it works is as fascinating as the end result.

Each individual foot-long drone communicates wirelessly with a single central computer that sends them their flight patterns. Before the show begins, the system checks each drone’s battery levels and GPS signal strength to make sure they correctly pull off each dance move. If one of these eight-ounce devices fails during a routine, a replacement will fly into action just seconds later.

But even a delay that short wasn’t something that was going to be risked for a game as big as the Super Bowl. The entire drone sequence was taped, and had to be filmed earlier in the week due to an FAA restriction that forbids drones from flying within 34.5 miles of NRG Stadium in Houston.

This isn’t the first time Intel has demonstrated its aerial expertise. The company set a Guinness World Record in 2016 for the most unmanned aerial vehicles simultaneously airborne when it flew 500 of its foam Shooting Star drones in Hamburg, Germany. This broke its previous record of 100. It also just finished up a three-week tour at Disney World.

As limitless as the possibilities may seem for using Intel drones to create flying art, it’s the future use cases that will have the most profound impact on society.

“I see them searching for a lost hiker with multiple drones at night with the right payloads looking for them,” Anil Nanduri, head of drones at Intel, told Wired. “Or search and rescue efforts after a landslide, when it’s hard to get people on the ground.”

The drones popularized at this year’s Super Bowl may soon be used to save lives—and that’s, like Gaga’s fireworks, an awe-inspiring feat.

H/T Real Simple

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*First Published: Feb 6, 2017, 6:48 pm CST