Just when you thought you’ve seen it all with drones, there’s a new way to engage with them: drone soccer.
And don’t worry if you weren’t any good on your grade-school AYSO soccer team. The principles of soccer certainly come into play with this latest esport, but it’s performed with drones.
And this isn’t just some random game that you’ll have to organize on your own with your own drone buddies. Drone soccer, which was first invented in South Korea, is now an official international sport of the World Air Sports Federation (FAI).
Thus, it’s a real sport with official games.
Here’s how drone soccer works:
- Five-player teams fly quadcopter drones covered with protective exoskeletons (to cut down on debilitating collisions) inside a netted arena. Each team has a single designated “Striker.”
- Each team can compete with up to 2 drones per active player, with a maximum of 10 drones per team.
- After receiving the start signal, the drones fly around, ramming and blocking the opposing team to prevent them from scoring.
- Points are awarded each time a ‘Striker’ successfully flies through their opponent’s goal in the forward direction.
- There are various rules around which direction a drone can fly and hover.
U.S. Drone Soccer is led by President David Roberts, who previously took the U.S. Drone Racing Team to two FAI World Championships. Though, like your AYSO soccer days, drone soccer in this sense is for kids only.
For now at least, U.S. Drone Soccer is just for kids in grades 6-12, and it’s intended to be carried out in either classroom lessons or after-school leagues. In fact, U.S. Drone Soccer is the only competitive student robotics program also recognized as an international sport by FAI.
What drone does the U.S. Drone Soccer program use?
Participants won’t simply fly their drones; there is an engineering component as well. Students who compete during the academic year must first learn to build, program, and repair their drones as a team.
“The joy of flight is real,” Roberts said. “When a student flies, but then crashes and makes their first repairs – they’ve become an engineer for life.”
Though, the drone won’t necessarily be built from complete scratch. U.S. Drone Soccer uses a drone that the organization spent about a year developing called the Saker DS200 “Bantam” Drone Soccer Ball. Its hardware is made by manufacturer iFlight RC, and entails a carbon fiber chassis, injection molded cage, and no need for soldering. Its makers promise the drone is affordable, durable, and easily repairable with simple tools.
Since the drone weighs under 250g, it does not require registration with the FAA.
It runs on open-source software, allowing students to rebuild and reprogram the drone for an additional aspect of learning.
Check out U.S. Drone Soccer’s own promo video showing the sport in action:
How much does it cost?
A single drone soccer ball build kit costs $219, though you’ll have to add another $59 for the Radiomaster T8 Radio Controller.
Complete demo bundles, which include a drone and accessories, are currently available for the discounted price of $375 as part of a limited Kickstarter campaign running through February 2022. After that, they’re set to go or $410 retail.
Or, you can purchase enough drones to field a whole team. The “Learn” bundle includes five drones with a spare and runs for $3,300. The “Practice” bundle makes it possible to play a full match, as it contains 12 drone (thus two spares), as well as a regulation size (10x10x20ft) collapsible practice arena. That bundle goes for $8,800.
Additionally — to play in the official league — you must be registered with U.S. Drone Soccer, which includes pilot insurance and a membership to the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
What about drone soccer matches?
U.S. Drone Soccer has big ambitions. The World Air Sports Federation will demonstrate the sport at the World Games held in Birmingham, Alabama this July.
Additionally, student leagues have been initiated (you can find a league near you here) and tournaments are already set to take place in Colorado, Ohio, and New York throughout 2022, with the first national-level tournament set for April 30, 2022 in Denver, Colorado.
What’s more, U.S. Drone Soccer has already integrated with some other major players in the drone space. A partnership with the Academy of Model Aeronautics provides pilot insurance and courses for students to complete the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) with the FAA. U.S. Drone Soccer is also seeking expansion leagues, which could be universities, school districts, nonprofits, and even for-profit companies to bring drone soccer to their area. Find out more about creating your own drone soccer expansion league here.