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  • Shooting Stars at Halftime

    Shooting Stars at Halftime: Drone Technology at the Super Bowl

Shooting Stars at Halftime: Drone Technology at the Super Bowl

October 6, 2017

If you watched the 2017 Super Bowl, you might have been dazzled by a halftime show that included a high-profile, twinkling technological display like none seen before: 300 lighted drones performing a synchronized dance in the night sky behind Lady Gaga. Although this was not the first time drones had been used in a performance, the Super Bowl LI halftime show showcased the impressive innovations we’ve made in advanced software technology and computing power.

The tiny drones – called Shooting Stars – were invented by Intel and designed to create exciting light shows in the night sky. Each drone weighs less than ten ounces and is equipped with full color range LED lights. Crafting this drone swarm choreography required the use of advanced mathematics, algorithms, and computer programming.

All 300 drones were controlled simultaneously by one master computer and ‘pilot’ on the ground. The pilot dictated the desired pattern to the master computer, that, in turn determined how many drones were needed to execute the pattern, including what color they would shine, where each drone needed to fly, and the most efficient route they should take to get there. Communicating wirelessly with the master computer, the drones kept track of their own locations before zooming to their next positions. As the drones remained oblivious to what their neighbors were doing, the master computer choreographed the movements of all of them, avoiding collisions as they rearranged in flight. This required meticulous calculations, possible only with some truly amazing computing power.

Although originally designed for entertainment, systems like the Shooting Star drones could eventually be used in other contexts as well, including search-and-rescue operations, finding lost hikers, inspecting hazardous construction sights, or monitoring hectares of crops. For now, we can be enchanted by their sparkling dances in the night sky.


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