By: Eli Hill,

During the  opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics, people watching around the world gave witness to a world record being broken.  In the largest display of its kind, over 1,218 drones took to the night skies of Pyeongchang for a large-scale synchronized performance.[1]  The mechanized fleet put on a colorful, LED dotted and darting spectacle, eventually forming the shape of a swaying snowboarder and transitioning into the iconic image of the interlocking Olympic Rings.[2]

Orchestrated by Intel, these drones were part of the company’s “Shooting Star” platform, a project that had been building to this Pyeongchang moment for many years.[3] After launching an initial synchronized swarm of 100 drones with four controlling pilots from a test site in 2015, Shooting Star capabilities grew to handle over 500 drones with just one controlling pilot only a year later in 2016.[4]  Most notably, Intel brought its Shooting Star show into the public’s direct line of sight during Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl halftime show when a 300 drone fleet converged to form the image of a fluttering American Flag above the NRG stadium.[5]

While ‘drone shows’ represent a relatively new sort of spectacle, the Olympics have been slowly incorporating drones within their broadcast productions for many years.[6]  During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the Olympic Broadcasting Services (“OBS”) used drone cameras to film freestyle skiing and snowboarding, events which in of themselves also embodied the idea of a fresh spectacle. [7] Able to capture thrilling moments from dynamic viewpoints, the OBS went on to use 50 high speed drone cameras at events, for athlete introductions, and during the presentation of awards at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.[8]

As global broadcasting platforms continue to experiment with drone capabilities in the realm of entertainment, traditional caution and safety concerns over commercial drone use remain.[9]   Recent risk assessments claim that the majority of drone-related accidents stem from faulty tech rather than human operating error.[10]  Given that drone show choreography puts greater reliance on the automated programming, those overseeing mass events remain appropriately cautious.  Broadcasts of both Shooting Star displays at the Super Bowl and at Pyeounchang were prerecorded, as concerns over weather conditions, fleet visibility, and the assured safety of a live audience forced Intel to adopt a more conservative roll out.[11] Currently, Intel has no plans to sell models of its Shooting Star drones, but given the popularity of their displays, it’s merely a matter of time until the general public has access to tech capable of creating individualized spectacles.[12]

While many countries have taken steps to regulate civilian drone use within the airspace of their own borders, international standards and policies still lack definitive traction.[13]  The United Nations continues to advocate strongly for the registration of all commercial drones within a national database.[14] In the last year, member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) included drone management guidelines as an action item at their annual symposium.[15]  Despite the championing recognitions, the popularity fueling the drone culture is clearly outpacing any policy being designed to regulate it.

By 2024, the global market growth of drones is projected to reach upwards of $13 billion.[16]  The current lag in standardized regulations allow drone manufactures to occupy a unique position of influence, especially at high profile, multinational sporting events.  Da-Jiang Innovations (“DJI”), the drone manufacturer responsible for over half of all small civilian drone sales, has capitalized on the absence of explicit international regulations by supplying the protections against its very own products.[17] Responding to concerns from South Korean authorities over civilian piloted drones, DJI developed a software patch that temporary prevents all drones of DIJ design from operating within protected Olympic event areas.  Providing such a service is not unusual for DIJ, as they have instituted these self-regulations at U.S. political party conventions, the G7 Summit in Japan, and the 2016 Euro football tournament in France.[18]

In addition to their record-breaking display at the Opening Ceremonies, Intel plans to deploy its light-show legions nightly in Pyueongchang. [19] Squadrons of 300 drones will animate the airspace above Olympic medal presentations for the duration of the Winter Games.[20]  As these displays continue to showcase the wonders of drones, not just their weaponing, their commercial popularity will remain on the rise.  The continued spectacle will push international policy and put pressure on international policy to keep pace.


[1] See Brian Barrett, Inside the Olympics Opening Ceremony World-Record Drone Show, Wired, (8:00pm on Feb. 9, 2018),

[2] See id.

[3]See Jacob Brogan, How Intel Lit Up the Super Bowl with Drones and Why, Slate, (10:25am on Feb. 6, 2017),

[4] See id.

[5] See Nathan Bohlander, Here Come the Drones- And the Legal Headaches, Law360 (Feb. 23, 2017)(describing drone show in connection to Super Bowl halftime).

[6] See generally, Waibel, M., Keays, B., Augugliaro, F.. Drones shows: Creative potential and best practices, Verity Studios (Jan. 2017),

[7] See Zehra Betul Ayranci, Use of Drones in Sports Broadcasting, 33 Ent. & Sports Law. 79 (2017).

[8] See id. at 80.

[9] See Waibel, supra note 6.

[10] See id.

[11] See Barrett, supra note 1.

[12] See Dieter Bohn, Intel’s new Shooting Star Mini drones can make indoor light shows, The Verge (11:15pm on Jan. 8, 2018),

[13]  See Ayranci, at 90.

[14] See id.

[15] See Philbin, Anthony, ICAO to Seek Global Traffic Management Solutions for Drone Operations, (May 15, 2017, Montreal),

[16]  Ayrunci, at 90.

[17] See Malek Murison, DJI Puts No-Fly Zones in Place for South Korea Winter Olympics, DroneLife Blog (Feb. 7, 2018),

[18] See id.

[19] See Brian Barrett, Inside the Olympics Opening Ceremony World-Record Drone Show, Wired, (8:00pm on Feb. 9, 2018),

[20] See id.

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