Intel breaks its own record in Super Bowl drone light show

Intel drones
Intel used 150 drone lanterns to create Sunday’s half-time show for the Super Bowl. (Intel)

Intel isn’t disclosing exactly how it was able to participate in a glitzy half-time show live during the Super Bowl—complete with floating lanterns forming the words “ONE” and “LOVE”—but it did reveal that it used 150 enhanced Intel Shooting Star drones to pull it off, choreographed to the music of Maroon 5.

As the band began the song “She Will Be Loved,” Intel’s computer directed 150 drones to float up and over the enclosed field, beating Intel’s previous indoor world record when it used 110 drones for an exhibition at CES in 2018.

Intel said it enhanced the Intel Shooting Star drones specifically for the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show to emulate the experience of floating lanterns.

Sunday’s event was also different from past ones in that it was done live. For past events, like for Lady Gaga’s half-time show two years ago, the drone footage was prerecorded and then broadcast during the show.

As with any live performance, things could go wrong, although Anil Nanduri, Intel vice president and general manager of the Intel Drone Group, said they conducted plenty of planning and rehearsals before the big event to ensure it was going to happen safely and successfully.

“We are a technology company,” he told FierceWirelessTech, and being able to provide the technology for the artists to use in their performance—“it’s a passion, and that keeps us going.”

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Super Bowl LIII also was unique in that the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is enclosed, so the drones had to successfully fly a preprogrammed path inside the closed stadium without GPS. Intel has its own indoor location technology that it built in-house, and it’s been used in many shows previously, including at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes during their Christmas Spectacular shows, according to Nanduri.

Intel doesn’t disclose the underlying technology—it’s not using LTE, but it is wireless-based and it involves transmitters and beacons that can provide a robust enough location technology to choreograph the drones’ flight patterns indoors.

The company was notified on Jan. 30 that the FCC granted the Special Temporary Authorization (STA) necessary to complete the light show. Intel had filed for a start date of Feb. 3 and end date of Feb. 5.

Going forward, 5G is going to bring more intelligence to the drones and enable transference of information between the cloud and drones, flying beyond visual line of sight. “5G is a key capability” that will be a great enabler for scaling drone systems in the future, Nanduri said.