Illuminated drones on field ahead of Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show

Students, Staff Step Up at Super Bowl


Drones Used in Halftime Show "Just Went Nuts" Day Before the Big Game

Rising high above the crowd to spell out “LOVE”, the illuminated paper lantern performance was a highlight for many watching the Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show.

The performance went off without a hitch. But for a few moments the day before the big game, a successful outcome seemed less than certain.

Georgia Tech College of Computing undergraduate students Christopher Payne and Anna Klaussen were among a handful of people from the GT Computing community that were either volunteering or working during Super Bowl LIII.

“Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl, I don’t know what happened but the drones just went completely nuts,” said Payne.

Glitch before the big game

Payne and Klaussen volunteered as “trays” supporting the illuminated lantern performance. The trays’ assignments were to place each of the 155 lanterns – all attached to a drone and carried on a plastic tray – on its specific spot.

Rehearsals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Georgia World Congress Center had gone smoothly during the previous two weeks. During one of the last rehearsals the day before the game, however, a glitch caused the drones to respond improperly.

“Half of them didn’t leave the ground, some went a few feet up and came down, but there were a couple that just went straight up to the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and then came crashing down,” said Payne, a fourth-year computational media major.

Possible coding change

He said he thinks the Intel team responsible for programming the drone swarm was trying to save a step.

“Part of our job had been to retrieve the drones when they landed. I think they were trying to program them to automatically land back on the trays. But, for whatever reason, the drones did not like the code,” said Payne, who is also minoring in Japanese.

Payne said he heard that the blood visibly drained from the director’s face when this happened. But in the end, the programmers solved the problem by reverting to the previous code, which led to a successful halftime performance.

Payne and Klaussen, a third-year computer science major, heard about the opportunity when Super Bowl organizers put out a call for volunteers through the Georgia Tech School of Music and other performing arts-related units at University System of Georgia institutions.

“I’m in the Glee Club and Anna is in the Marching Band Color Guard. I think they wanted people used to performing, used to rehearsals, and used to taking direction,” said Payne.

Super staff at the Super Bowl

Also performing on Super Bowl Sunday was Patricia Allen, a senior development assistant in the College of Computing.  Allen sings with The SEEiT Choir, an Atlanta-based professional choir, which performed on the main stage during the official NFL tailgate party before the game.

“I’ll always remember the energy from the day. The entire experience was amazing.” Allen said. “It was a tremendous joy to have fans asking to take pictures with us and express how wonderful we sounded. I would do this all over again and hopefully, we will!”

While Allen was performing outside, GT Computing staff member Bricesen Ross was inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium working as a Microsoft contractor.

Ross’s primary responsibility was monitoring the NFL’s digital communication network to prevent any downtime for tablet computers being used on the sidelines and throughout the stadium during the game.

“The initial plan was for me to be on the (New England) Patriots sideline, but 45 minutes prior to the start, I was approved to work in the media control center next to the commissioner's suite,” Ross said.

From this vantage point, Ross said he could see Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “along with a few other billionaires,” enjoying the game from the commissioner’s suite.

Allie McFadden also spent time in the media center. Part of the College’s communications team, McFadden worked as a member of the NFL’s public relations (PR) staff. Her husband, a member of the Atlanta Falcons communications team, was also part of the gameday PR staff.

“Our team's job was to make sure the press room ran smoothly for every part of the game, especially the post-game,” McFadden said. “We worked with the transcribers and statisticians to make sure journalists had the latest stats, quotes, and player updates. We also helped direct coaches, former players, and other celebrities to the right areas for radio interviews, press conferences, et cetera.”

McFadden said pinning down her favorite memory from volunteering at the Super Bowl was tough.

“Going to the Super Bowl has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Getting to go to the game in my own hometown, and having the opportunity to help it run smoothly, and sharing it all with my husband was pretty cool,” said McFadden.

She added, “We got to go on the field after the game and I’m not going to lie, playing in the confetti was pretty dang fun!”

Also volunteering time to ensure the success of Super Bowl LIII was Andrew Leonard. Leonard is an IT Support Professional II on the College team and a GT Computing alumnus. He volunteered several hours as part of the Super Bowl Street Crew responsible for greeting and assisting Super Bowl visitors at city venues including Centennial Olympic Park. 

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