Players compete in a game at the launch party of the Philadelphia Drone Soccer League at a YMCA in West Philadelphia on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Opposing teams fly RC quadcopter drones in protective cages designed for full-contact gameplay as they ram and block each other midair.

Educational robots are a part of it, competitive team sports, and drone football are in the air in Westville.

At the launch of the new Drone Football League in Philadelphia on Monday, Shari Williams was perfectly happy losing an exhibition game against two of her former drone education students. “It’s OK. They’re supposed to be better than me. That’s the point,” she says, laughing afterwards.

Williams, who calls herself the “Drone Goddess,” is the head coach of the Philadelphia Drone Football Team. She believes sports are the perfect tool for introducing science and technology to the youth of Philly, while also giving them another option for productive after-school activities besides traditional sports.

Williams also runs drone training classes for students and adults. Classes teach participants about drones, give them flight experience and prepare them to pass the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Pilot Certification exam.

“When I go and talk on workdays, I would [ask students], ‘what do you want to be?’ Many young people will say [things like]”Oh, I want to play basketball.” Some ladies might say, “Oh, I want to be a beautician.” And that’s great stuff…but I don’t think STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is driven enough…that gives a fun way to do it.”

Drone soccer is part educational robotics and part competitive team sport. In a match, each player will fly their individual drone inside a closed cage, with two opposing hoop targets. Teams score points when a designated drone, called a “striker”, flies through the opponent’s goal; The other players try to keep the other team’s attacker out of their own team’s goal. The sport is relatively new, having gained popularity in South Koreabut now played around the worldincluding United State.

Each drone has a protective exoskeleton around it, as the tiny remote-controlled devices are constantly bumping into each other as they buzz through the air. In a match, play “packs” come in short bursts, so players can repair their drones and replace batteries as needed.

To be able to perform these types of fast-paced repairs on the fly, players need to learn the ins and outs of their drones. This is where the educational piece comes in, as players will learn all the technical aspects of their machines and the rules and regulations of flying drones before they play any match.

“until [these] A small drone[s]…should be well designed, in the sense [that] All [their] “The parts are fitted in a certain way,” said Oscar Estrada, one of the coaches and technical experts for the Philadelphia Drone Football Team. “The power-to-weight ratio, the propeller…that [certain] The amount of volts… It’s like a car.”

Estrada hopes that students who join the league will be able to catch the “fault” of robots and fly. He explained that drones are used in many professional fields, and having experience with them can open up Philly kids a lot of opportunities. “This is only the beginning [for them],” He said.

The league is still in its infancy and is looking for more foster organizations such as schools, churches or community groups to sponsor the teams; Williams hopes there will be teams all over Philadelphia one day. The first team in the league will be held at Mercy Church in West Philly. Over the past few weeks, Williams, Estrada, and other instructors have been teaching the youngsters there about drones. Eventually, the kids there will form their own drone soccer team.

“[At] First, I didn’t want to [do it]Brandon McLean, 12, a participant at Mercy Church, said of his mom signing him up for the program. But once he started flying drones himself he was hooked. It reminded him of playing video games, and he loved learning about all the different parts of the drone.

Now, McClain is ready to use his knowledge. He also plays other sports and plans to approach this new sport in the same way. “I like competition,” he said.


Work produced by The Inquirer’s Communities and Engagement Desk is supported by the Lenfest Journalism Institute. Editorial content is generated independently of the project donors.

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