“Drone Soccer” Created To Help Students Learn About Building and Programming Drones

Just over a decade ago, drones were regarded as military tools or hobby toys, with some expansion in scientific applications. Now, drones have found a place in countless industries. The drone industry is one of the fastest growing markets and is worth billions.  One of the niche markets for drone use has become entertainment sports like drone racing. A few years ago, South Korea introduced a new drone sport to the world, drone soccer. Recognizing the potential of expansion, David Roberts brought the sport of drone soccer to the US in 2019. At the time, David was the president of MultiGP Drone Racing League. With Drone Soccer, David wanted to create something more than just an exciting recreational activity. He wanted something that could be a bridge between getting kids involved and educated in aviation to real world applications.

So David met with retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Kyle Sanders, a program manager at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Together they developed a program for educators that would introduce drone technology to middle and high school students in Colorado. Four schools were selected to participate in Drone Soccer’s trial, a program that would culminate in the first ever US Drone Soccer tournament on July 31, 2021. The game itself, as Kyle explains, is similar to Quidditch from the world of Harry Potter. Two teams meet within a 10ftX20ft enclosed mesh pitch. The goal is to get your team’s striker drone through the opposing team’s suspended ring shaped goal. Adding to the challenge are the other players trying to block a goal from happening.

But, getting to the stage when teams are ready to play drone soccer is far from simple. It involves an immense level of preparation, knowledge, and teamwork. Drone Soccer provided the students with affordable drone kits, and from there, the students had to build everything needed to compete. They had to learn how to assemble the small drone and its protective spherical cage. They had to learn how to quickly repair the drones and write code to program them. They had to learn how to fly the drones through the goal while avoiding obstacles. They had to learn how to work together and support each other, something that is normally absent in the world of drones that is mainly a single operator activity.

“As much time, or even more time that you spend practicing or playing, is also time spent building and knowing and programing your drone to be perfect to yourself,” said participating student Liam. So when it came time to compete in one of the hangers at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, all four teams were ready. “We’re doing this,” Liam reflected on his experience at the tournament. “We are playing the first championship, and it was the greatest feeling of all.” It is a true marker of success any time an educator can get a group of students to work together and feel that powerfully about what they are learning.

As Tom Neff, Liam’s Drone Soccer coach explained, the ultimate goal of Drone Soccer is to get kids excited about the many opportunities drones present to their futures. By participating in this event, the students gained valuable experiences in teamwork and technology that will set them up for success as adults. When Tom began instructing his team, and then again after the tournament, he asked them how they would use this knowledge to shape their future. “Are you going to create your own business? If you are, let’s talk about a business plan. Do you want to go into photography, like for weddings? Do you want to go into real estate? Do you want to go into working for public service,” Tom would say to them. “These are things they can all do now. Because before, it was like a dream, but now it’s a reality. The sky is the limit.”

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