When Lady Gaga opened up her halftime performance at the Super Bowl this weekend, standing at the top of NRG Stadium in Houston, I was in awe. I’m not really a fan of her music (sue me), but as she perched some 200 feet above the field of play with a dazzling light display in the open sky behind her, I heard myself asking, “How are they doing that? I should know this!“
I somehow hadn’t read the five dozen previews or 31 features on every single tech website in four languages lauding the drone display powered by Intel, despite the fact I spend a good portion of my days sorting through hundreds of technology press releases and articles. Instead I sat there transfixed, wondering if the effect was green-screened in, or if there was some sort of projection system hovering behind her. The shapes changed from a flag to a 3D swirl of stars and shapes. I was mesmerized.
And then she jumped. She jumped! I wouldn’t do that. Sure, she was harnessed with twin cables, but 200 feet is a long distance.
Then, of course, I grabbed my laptop and looked it up while Gaga did her thing in the background. The Intel technology, called Shooting Star, is a programmable swarm of drones originally used at Disney World for their Starbright Holidays special. Each drone is about a foot long square, weighs eight ounces and is made of mostly foam. They are festooned with LED lights capable of producing four billion colors and communicate wirelessly with a central computer that coordinates the highly choreographed routine. Each drone has its own positional data via GPS, and another drone will take off if it senses another one has failed.
So, yeah sure, jumping 200 feet and singing some of the biggest hits of the past ten years is pretty cool, but I’m still stoked on these LED drones.