Meet drone dueling, the sport California is about to inadvertently kill … – Popular Science

Is it possible to kill an entire category of sports before the world really knows about? A new bill, set to regulate drones in the state of California, contains a single vague line that could shut down an entire world of drone sports.

In its current form, California Senate Bill 347 says “A person shall not weaponize a remote piloted aircraft or operate a weaponized remote piloted aircraft.” Without exceptions for sporting use or clarifying what, exactly, a weaponized drone is, California’s “State Remote Piloted Aircraft Act” could end drone duels, and limit what exactly a future sport could be.

Drone combat, originally done under the moniker “Game of Drones,” is like a flying version of BattleBots, with human pilots steering unmanned machines into combat against each other, with the last machine still flying declared the winner.

“What we found is that drone violence is actually a way to trick kids into their interest in the science and tech,” says Marque Cornblatt, CEO of the Aerial Sports League. “When you smash these toys together, you’re forced to learn about all kinds of things: electronics, hardware, little bit of software, teamwork. Kids embrace the challenges and the disciplines at the heart of making a drone fly and keeping it up in the air.”

The Aerial Sports League runs drone events, including racing and drone combat, in the Bay Area, and has since its founding in 2011. They do teach-ins and demonstrations as corporate events, and, within the last 18 months, Cornblatt says they have had a total of almost 600,000 spectators to their live competitions. The League is a mainstay at Maker Faire, the tech-savvy DIY event and showcase.

For the drone duels, battles take place inside a cube of netting, up to 30 feet long on each side, so that the spectators can watch without any risk to themselves. Audience reaction to the duels led Cornblatt to consider drones as a tool for STEM education.

Working with organizations like the YMCA of the East Bay, the Aerial Sports League teach classes to kids where they learn to assemble and even battle the drones.

“When you set drones down in front of those kids and say, ‘If you learn our lesson, you’ll be flying drones here today,’ they’re super enthusiastic, extremely well behaved,” says Cornblatt.

While the classes are often small affairs, with 10 to 12 students, the spectacle of drone battles draws crowds, looking for an aerial update on the familiar BattleBots or Robot Wars premise. And drones are calibrated to the constraints of the arena. Before each event, the Aerial Sports League sets guidelines, and then there’s a check-in at the event to make sure the weapon is calibrated so that it won’t cause harm.

“We don’t allow things like chemicals, fire, or electrical discharges. We don’t allow projectiles that can work their way through the net, so you can’t shoot paintball or airsoft guns or anything like that,” says Cornblatt. “But you can do like a net launcher, which is quite popular. You can have sort of ropes dangling below the drone, or objects sticking out to probe at the other drone with like a long stick.”


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