U.S. Drone Soccer Launches National Leagues

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This full-contact team sport helps high schools adopt drone education
an inside view
01. An inside view of the new 20cm drone soccer ball shows the programmable LED and infrared ring beneath a carbonfiber frame and iFlight flight controller.
an inside view

Drone soccer is the world’s newest international aerial sport, following a competitive tradition that dates back more than 100 years. The World Air Sports Federation, also known as the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and governs all aerial records and sports worldwide.

The oldest national aviation club in the US, the National Aeronautic Association, was a founding member of the FAI. It also held the first RC aircraft competition at the National Aeromodeling Championships (Nats) in 1923. In 1936, a dedicated aeromodeling organization became what we know today as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, with its purpose "to advance model aeronautics as a science and sport and to aid constructive activities employing model aircraft as one means toward general aeronautic education."

the colorado high school
02. The Colorado high school championship at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
a view from below of the carbonfiber
03. A view from below of the carbonfiber frame and impact-absorption bumper connection to the spherical exoskeleton. Eight exoskeleton panels combine to form an annular wing.
a top view of the new 20cm drone
04. A top view of the new 20cm drone soccer ball that was designed by AMA members Bill Aumer and David Roberts.

The aircraft arrives in classroom kits of six or 12 with plug-andplay assembly, easy programming, and classroom lessons. The explosion of drone racing worldwide since 2011, including the success of the Drone Racing League on ESPN, eventually drove the World Air Sports Federation to fully adopt official rulesets for two new drone disciplines in 2018. The first was F9U Drone Racing. The AMA helped to field Team USA at the FAI World Drone Racing Championships (WDRC) in 2018 and 2019 in Shenzhen, China.

The second drone discipline was F9A Drone Soccer. Drone soccer represents an exciting evolution in teambased, full-contact, spectator-friendly robotics sports.

F9A 20cm Drone Soccer is a team sport played in a netted enclosure that is 10 × 20 feet with a 10-foot ceiling and has suspended vertical hoops serving as goals in the opposing end zones. The 20cm-diameter drones are protected by a spherical exoskeleton that competitors use to ram and block the opposing team during full-contact gameplay.

One drone on each team is designated as the striker that can score points by flying through the opposing goal. All other drones are defending or blocking by intentionally colliding with the opposing team’s aircraft.

f9a 20cm drone soccer
05. F9A 20cm Drone Soccer is played in a 10 × 10 × 20-foot netted arena. Three 3-minute sets are flown via line-ofsight, with aircraft colliding to defend or score by flying through goals on each end of the arena.
scoring in drone soccer
06. Scoring in drone soccer is accomplished when the striker, indicated by bottom flags, flies through the opponent’s circular goal.

Each match is decided by a best-out-of-three, 3-minute sets. In a regulation match, up to five drones are flying for each team, which accrue battle damage to be repaired quickly between sets.

David Roberts, an AMA Leader Member and former president of MultiGP, an AMA Special Interest Group, twice led the American drone racing teams to the FAI WDRC, where he was introduced to the potential for drone soccer to help drive greater adoption of youth drone sports around the world, and the potential to inspire students to focus on aerospace engineering.

"We’ve worked carefully with students and teachers to design new drone soccer aircraft, an education solution, and league play. Feedback has been beyond propeller variations and flight controller programming. We found that students from difficult backgrounds were suddenly excited to engage in their learning as they never had before," said David, who is the cofounder of U.S. Drone Soccer. "We are honored to work with the AMA to introduce learning through drone soccer for students and schools across America and beyond. The AMA culture of safety, responsibility, and community is an important part of the student learning experience."

David now serves as the president of U.S. Drone Soccer, working in close partnership with the AMA to help schools adopt classroom drone education, as well as after-school competitive teams. The first test programs with high schools in Colorado helped to shape the entire program around modern approaches to Career and Technical Education (CTE).

"Drone soccer is exciting for CTE because it allows students to build, program, and fly drones in a challenging and engaging way. They are captivated by the gameplay," said Robert Ferguson, the Colorado CTE and the Air Force Association’s 2021 Teacher of the Year recipient. "This is a great on-ramp into aviation and advanced design challenges."

At the middle and high school level, students utilize U.S. Drone Soccer’s build kits and lesson plans. The quadcopters are a durable and repairable design pioneered by AMA member Bill Aumer and produced by leading drone racing manufacturer iFlight Innovation Technology Ltd. The core component of the drone is a flight controller that manages four brushless motors inside of the protective ball, all of which can be assembled with a single hex driver and without the need for soldering.

drone soccer balls
07, 08. Drone soccer balls are shown in full contact battle against other drone soccer balls. Three vs. three or five vs. five teams defend circular goals while the opponent attempts to fly through the goal.
drone soccer balls
07, 08. Drone soccer balls are shown in full contact battle against other drone soccer balls. Three vs. three or five vs. five teams defend circular goals while the opponent attempts to fly through the goal.
drone soccer tournament
09. The first U.S. Drone Soccer Tournament had eight student teams competing at the Rocky Mountain State Games 2021 in Colorado Springs CO.
denver cte teacher robert
10. Denver CTE teacher Robert Ferguson is shown with Westminster High students preparing for battle in the arena with their F9A 20cm drone soccer balls.
colorado air force
11. Colorado Air Force Association’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, Robert Ferguson, is focused on his students in action.

New drone soccer competitive leagues are forming in cities based upon the leadership of educational nonprofits that host professional arenas and support educators with drone training. These partnerships include the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, the Boys and Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and CNY Drones in central New York. Other regions will be announced.

International programs that are forming in Canada, Colombia, and through a U.S. Embassy-backed outreach program, are run by the Global Air Drone Academy and are set to take place between eight schools in Lagos, Nigeria.

This paves the way for state, national, and international drone soccer leagues and tournaments as early as the spring of 2022. Because of a presentation to the International Olympic Committee, the FAI will debut Drone Sports in the Air Sports section at The World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2022, showcasing a new generation of global sports.

Future representatives of the U.S. Drone Soccer Team might already be competing right now. Of the two teams competing in the finals at the Rocky Mountain State Games, seven out of eight players learned to play together only one week before at a Wings Over the Rockies summer camp. This speaks to how quickly young students can learn model aviation and piloting skills within a team learning environment.

The First Tournament

At the first U.S. Drone Soccer Tournament in Colorado, there were 3 minutes remaining on the clock. The score was tied in the last match. The student pilots were all eager to win a gold medal in the first official e-sport of the Rocky Mountain State Games. Eight student teams from summer camp programs across Colorado attended the statewide, multisport event that is associated with the US Olympic Committee, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs.

The 13-year-old pilots from the Wings’ Prowlers team survived a tough double-elimination tournament after losing their first match. They fought through four straight wins, leading to the finals. Their quadcopter’s drone cages were painted black and yellow, and were battered following a long day of midair collisions.

the top three student
12. The top three student team finalists in the U.S. Drone Soccer Tournament are at the podium in the first e-sport event at the 2021 Rocky Mountain State Games in Colorado Springs.
theo gregory
13. Theo Gregory of the Colorado Springs Sports Corps presents gold medals to Alden Mendrey, Nicholas Brown, and sisters Jenavive and Jocylynn Bradford.
new ama member
14. New AMA member and U.S. Drone Soccer pilot Breno Ejzykowicz shows his medal and slightly modified 20cm drone soccer ball.

Daniele "Breno" Ejzykowicz was the Prowlers’ designated striker, indicated by flags taped to the bottom of his drone ball cage. It was his job to find a way through the tough opponent’s defense to score more goals than the opposing striker. The event’s three vs. three matches were fast-paced, high-scoring affairs. Strikers must balance aggressive flying with the risk of taking too much damage, potentially leaving the team shorthanded.

"The strategy was to keep calm while our midfielder played man-to-man on their striker," said Breno. "I knew I was going to go all out because I had to score faster than their striker, who was top class."

The referee commanded, "Arm your drones!" and all six aircraft quickly leapt into the air at the starting buzzer. Breno dodged sideways around the opposing striker then climbed over a waiting defender, only to rebound off the top of the goal. He quickly regained control, recovering just in time to score. However, the opponent’s striker was also successful, tying the score at one each after only 5 seconds of play. Breno dropped low and returned across the half-court line for a second attack.

Moving too fast to slow down, he hit the net wall behind the goal and tumbled before crashing hard into the floor, knocking his drone out of the set. When play resumed the Prowlers couldn’t mount an effective defense and ended their tournament comeback with a silver medal. Like many of the competitors in the summer tournament, he plans to represent his high school in the upcoming academic season.

"I’m proud of how much preparation work each student put into this. I think they’re all going to surprise us with what they can do next year and beyond," said retired U.S. Air Force pilot Maj. Kyle Sanders, who is vice president of Education and Development at U.S. Drone Soccer.

To become involved or to find out more about introducing drone soccer to your school, visit the U.S. Drone Soccer website through the links listed in "Sources."

U.S. Drone Soccer is raising funds for aviation outreach programs through a public Kickstarter campaign throughout January.

SOURCES:

FAI

www.fai.org/drone-sports

The World Games 2022

https://twg2022.com/sports/air-sports/

U.S. Drone Soccer

www.dronesoccer.us

By David M. Roberts, Kyle Sanders, and William Aumer david@dronesoccer.us
Photos by the authors

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