Participants get kick — and high-tech skills — out of drone soccer
UTICA — It’s a sport like no other that anyone can pick up that’s starting to gain momentum across the nation: Drone soccer.
And here in Central New York, CNY Drones is working to build its teams — and lifelong skills for youngsters in an increasingly tech-focused world.
Robert Payne, co-founder of CNY Drones and adjunct instructor in the mechanical engineering technology department at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, oversaw a meeting of veteran and new members to the world of drone operation on Sunday at SUNY Poly.
Donovan Hall had its drone soccer arena set up, and members worked to prepare their drones for flight.
Drone soccer teams build and program radio-controlled quadcopters in protective balls designed for collisions and face-off, scoring points by flying into the opposing team’s goal while preventing the other team from scoring by ramming and blocking. The sport itself was recognized by the World Air Sports Federation.
Drone soccer is for middle and high school students, ages 12 to 18, for an official team.
“Our goal at CNY Drones is to inspire middle and high school students to get involved in drone technology,” Payne said. “There’s so much drone activity here in Central New York, especially with what’s been happening at Griffiss International Airport and the drone corridor going from Rome to Syracuse. And drone soccer is a great way to do that. It brings sports into technology.”
“Students build their drones, program them, and repair them if they damage,” he continued. “And all those different aspects can be applied to the current job market — drone repair, programming, and flying. Especially flying. You don’t have to be in the engineering field because there’s a great demand for drone pilots right now. And drone soccer is helping foster this needed skill set.”
Members of CNY Drones were there on Sunday to help students get their feet wet in the world of drones.
A three versus three match was held with students and veterans alike squaring off each other. The drones were contained in a special arena, complete with netting to ensure that everything was kept as safe as can be.
Among those piloting drones was CNY Drones member Gaetano Viti, who works at Rome Free Academy and manages their drone program through Mohawk Valley Community College.
“I joined CNY Drones last year. Payne, who was my former professor, asked if I could help with an event. I’ve been a part ever since. We do a lot of community outreach events and help other teams around the state get their drones working and do tournaments,” Viti said. “Drone technology is probably the most important field to get into right now, and this teaches so much. Children aren’t just given a drone; they need to figure out how to build it. They’re involved in a way that they wouldn’t be with a soccer ball. If it breaks, they will fix it. It’s great not just from a STEM point of view, but it teaches life skills as well.”
And to help teach that next generation, people like Viti are part of programs like Gear Up at RFA. Through Mohawk Valley Community College, Viti and his colleagues work to introduce drone soccer to young children and let them fly drones. From there, they stay with them over the years. And if the grant is renewed, they go right back to the seventh graders.
“It’s great. Drone soccer is spreading all over,” he added. “Utica Proctor High School is about to get a team, and they’re getting a practice field together.”
Viti said drone soccer a unique sport. “I don’t think there’s another sport where you’re flying around,” he said. “Flying adds a completely new dimension, literally, and I think this is just the beginning of drones and flying sports. I think it’s going to be the next big thing.”
For more information about CNY Drones and upcoming meetings, visit: www.cnydrones.org.
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