Drones danced in the dark at last night's Super Bowl

6th February 2017
Alice Matthews

Lady Gaga kicked off last night’s Super Bowl halftime show by singing from the roof of the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. As she performed a rendition of God Bless America and This Land is Your Land, all eyes were drawn to the dancing drones which decorated the sky behind her and ultimately created the image of the American flag.

Gaga was accompanied by no less than 300 of Intel’s Shooting Star drones. The drones themselves are water-resistant and can withstand wind speeds of up to 8m/s, but in case adverse weather forced the roof to be closed the show was pre-recorded. Additionally, similarly to the UK, the US government prohibits drones within 34.5 miles of the stadium so organisers had to film the show earlier last week.

Physically speaking, the drones make less of an impact than their flashy consumer counterparts (£20,000 gold-plated drone, anyone?). Measuring approximately 0.09m2 and weighing just over 226g, they sport a plastic and foam body to soften any impacts. What differentiates them from others is the four billion colour combinations made possible by on-board LEDs and the modifiable aerial acrobatics.

To execute its dance routine, each drone individually communicates wirelessly with a central computer. Just before the spectacle commences, the computer assigns roles according to the battery level and signal strength of each drone. If for any reason a drone falters during the performance, a reserve unit can take over in seconds.

While the drones certainly made for a memorable spectacle, it is interesting to consider future applications for this technology. To find out more, USA Today interviewed Natalie Cheung, General Manager and Anil Nanduri, Vice President of Business, Intel Drone.

Firstly, there are new marketing possibilities as Cheung explains: “It’s a different way of merging art and technology, which I think a lot of people haven’t seen. We started this effort maybe a year and a half ago, and it started with 100 drones in the sky and showed a simple Intel logo.”

The drones can be used to promote a business, amuse an audience or accompany music – as the Super Bowl team did last night. Last year 500 synchronised drones flew in Sydney which broke the Guinness World Record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously.

Perhaps much more importantly than entertaining audiences is the practical applications the technology can offer.  “I see them searching for a lost hiker with multiple drones at night with the right payloads looking for them,” said Nanduri. “Or search and rescue efforts after a landslide, when it’s hard to get people on the ground.”

Overall, Lady Gaga’s performance succeeded in both entertaining the world and stimulating discussion of the life-saving aspects of drone technology. Pretty impressive for fifteen minutes, no?

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