During last weekend’s Super Bowl halftime show, it looked like stars or giant fireflies were dancing above the arena. Globes of colorful light dotted the sky, glowing red, white, and blue. When a single laptop sent the signal, the lights swarmed from random dots to a waving American flag. But these weren’t stars or insects—they were a swarm of drones (aircrafts without human pilots on board).
Each bright light was actually a Shooting Star drone made by the technology company Intel, based in California. One of the quadcopters—aircrafts with four rotating blades—is about the size of a medium pizza box and weighs less than a volleyball. But what sets the Shooting Star apart is its LED lights, which are capable of creating 4 billion color combinations.
Programmers can make flight plans for the drones that are so precise that they can fly within 5 feet of each other. The result: vivid animations visible from hundreds of feet in the air. The drones were designed specifically for light shows and have been used for events at Disney World and Australia’s Vivid Sydney light festival.
In order to take flight for the Super Bowl, Intel had to get a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration. It let them fly the drones higher than they ever have before, soaring up to 700 feet in the air. The FAA’s rules and concerns about weather, however, did mean that the show had to be prerecorded before the actual event.
That doesn’t mean the colorful drones will never fly live above an audience. Intel hopes their Shooting Stars could become as common as fireworks for nighttime spectacles—and unlike fireworks, they’re reusable!
“The potential for these light show drones is endless and we hope this experience inspires other creatives, artists, and innovators to really think about how they can incorporate drone technology in new ways that have yet to even be thought of,” says Josh Walden, a senior vice president at Intel.