Superbowl 51 Use of Drones

February 6, 2017, 11:18 AM

Other than that spectacular comeback of the Patriots with Tom Brady winning over the Falcons, the other great thing is the drone performance.

So is DRONES the future of evening theme park shows?

They lit up the sky like star field. Formed a flag. Can't seem to recall all the sequences, but they are quite seemless and agile. I'm ready to see more.

Replies (6)

February 6, 2017, 11:34 AM

Are there any fan pictures of those drones? The footage of Lady GaGa on the roof with the drones seemed like it was pre-taped and heavily edited.

Edited: February 6, 2017, 1:10 PM

I'm pretty sure the drone performance wasn't live. There were reports that she was rehearsing on the roof earlier in the week, which is probably when they pre-taped the opening sequence. I don't think she would have been able to move from a location on top of the roof, where she would have been tethered to the exterior structure, to under the roof, tethered to the rigging that allowed her to descend into the stadium, in the 15 or so seconds between when you last saw her on the roof until she started dropping inside. To me, the drones weren't all that impressive, and looked more like CGI dots superimposed on the background than individual aircraft flying in unison. It's also not that groundbreaking or unique.

I saw a much more impressive drone display on Muse's most recent US Tour (their last album is actually called "Drones"). They were using drones that looked more like giant balloons that floated and danced above the stage and crowd. The drones were like floating light rigs.

I think theme park shows could easily adapt this technology, but it may be more difficult and unreliable for outdoor shows that are exposed to the elements. While small and light, if a drone gets blown off course and inadvertently crashes into the audience, it could cause serious harm. Perhaps using drones that are naturally buoyant (filled with helium or other lighter than air gas) could eliminate the crash concern because if a drone lost power it would still maintain altitude, and if it malfunctioned during a dive, an emergency power cut would keep it in the air.

Edited: February 6, 2017, 2:06 PM

Well, I've never seen anything like this before. If you had, then you're the few. This display is a major improvement over the Disney Springs presentation, which is much more crude in comparison. These Intel drones appear more advanced and synchronized to the music with a clear routine.

I'm not exactly sure what is meant by "CGI dots superimposed on the background than individual aircraft flying in unison". The last thing you want is to figure out how mechanically it works. If it's clear they are flying aircraft, what's the point?

The giant balloon drones are indoor arena shows. I do think the balloons limit their mobility, but they do put on a good show. It's just different. The problem with balloons is their susceptibility to be blown away with mild winds since they have more surface area to contend with. The drones are likely to be flown away outside the audience viewing locations just like the fireworks have a fallout zone. Those fireworks casings must fall somewhere. I doubt any theme park company will put on a show when one drone falls out of the sky a day, or even a month. Either the technology is reliable or they'll wait. Drones are not cheap and require government oversight (FAA).

Edited: February 6, 2017, 2:51 PM

"I'm not exactly sure what is meant by "CGI dots superimposed on the background than individual aircraft flying in unison". The last thing you want is to figure out how mechanically it works. If it's clear they are flying aircraft, what's the point?"

What I meant is that it looked FAKE, and not like there were really aircraft flying in the air behind the stadium. Obviously, if you're at a show location and you see them moving around, you can see that they're real, but on the TV broadcast, it looked totally fake, accentuated by the fact that the opening was obviously filmed ahead of time.

The standard quad-copter drones are susceptible to mild winds too. Perhaps not as much as the balloon drones, but even a 5 MPH wind would require some complicated algorithms to keep the drones in formation.

I just don't see the application of a fleet of drones acting like pixels forming an aerial screen. Sure it's neat, and much more controllable/flexible than fireworks, but even if you're able to get the light density up to SD (doubt you could ever get up to HD without physically flying a display into the air), it's still not any more impressive than projecting on a building or a water screen. There are some clear applications that I can see (like forming an X-Wing flying across the sky to battle a tie fighter), but the technology is going to have to get a lot better before you get to that point.

I have no doubt that the technology wouldn't be deployed unless it were safe, and that most formations would likely occur over unoccupied areas (lagoon, backstage, etc...). However, because drones are dynamic pieces of show equipment that are completely untethered, there is a distinct chance for a malfunction and also for malice by resourceful guests. Also, I think drones physically flying over the audience would be far more impressive than hovering over water or backstage. The biggest advantage of using drones is that you can add dimension to a type of show that's normally very flat (fireworks, projections, and lasers). If you can't fly the drones overhead, they really don't add anything to a show you can't accomplish through another mechanism.

February 6, 2017, 4:53 PM

On whether it looked fake, it wasn't actually fake. I thought it was live until it was pointed out to me it was taped. has a good article about it. The drones were exempted from rules that prevented them from being close to the stadium. So Lady Gaga was on the stadium roof and the drones were behind her. That was what you saw.

As for safety, the drones are a foot long, weighs 8 ounces, and have plastic and foam bodies in case they crashed.

I hope there's no aerial screen. Not again. Drones in the sky has the third element... 3D. What's the point of showing a 2D movie clip in the sky when the focus should be doing 3D aerial effects.

The article said they are the same company that did a 3 week run at Disney World.

Edited: February 7, 2017, 7:19 AM

I know it wasn't fake, because I had actually read an article about the drone use before the performance. However, I thought it looked fake, and people who didn't know those were drones ahead of time might have thought it could be post-production CGI not lighted mini-aircraft.

The FAA did provide an exemption to fly near the Super Bowl site (a strict prohibition that goes into affect a week prior to the event), but I still doubt they would have given that clearance on the day of the event to actually shoot that sequence live. I don't think a company like Disney would have issues getting clearance to fly over their own private property, though Disneyland may run into more difficulties than Disney World because of the tight LA Metro Region airspace.

Again, I think the safety is critical, and even at 8 ounces with mostly foam parts, a malfunctioning drone falling out of the sky could still cause a pretty significant injury.

"I hope there's no aerial screen. Not again. Drones in the sky has the third element... 3D."

That's why I think it's crucial that developers get the technology fool-proof enough to allow them to fly over the audience. Depth of field can only be accomplished if they can get up close to the audience, because flying formations above a lagoon or backstage is not going to create enough depth of field to accentuate the flexibility of the system over screens.

I think there are some promising applications here, but they're a long ways off (5 years or more). The Super Bowl presentation did not WOW me.

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