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Buzz, bump, target! Drone football is aiming high for CES

AFP-Jiji
Competitors will fly their drones for a drone football match that will make its global debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 10.

LAS VEGAS (AFP-Jiji) – A loud buzzing sound is raising fears that a giant swarm of insects has overtaken Eureka Park, one of the venues for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But in fact it is a group of ‘soccer drones’ made in South Korea.

Five red drones face off against five blue ones, all controlled remotely from outside the playing field, to ensure no one gets hurt by an errant flying object.

The game lasts just three minutes and the action is fast-paced: Protected by globe-like shields, the drones take off and fly around, crashing into each other and bouncing off the green field in pursuit of a target.

To score a point, a team must maneuver a drone through the opposing team’s ‘donut’, a hoop that hangs 3.5 meters in the air and lights up to signal a goal.

“Three drone defenders stay in front of the goal,” explains Sean Greenhalgh, a 32-year-old professional drone footballer.

Greenhalgh, who once worked at a Trader Joe’s supermarket in the United States, said he discovered the nascent sport – first created in 2016 – about a year ago during a drone photography class.

Now he is captain and lead forward of Team USA and teaches children ages four and older. It’s a somewhat niche profession, but he seems to be making a comfortable living with it.

Jasmine Lee, who organizes the competition, explained that the game was created by an engineer who was a huge Harry Potter fan – and based it on the magical sport of Quidditch featured in the wildly popular books.

“It’s very difficult to score. Holding the drone in a stationary position requires a lot of experience,” creative engineer Lee told AFP.

She worked for the South Korean technology company Camtic, which is still active in the sport. CEO Ro Sang-heub also holds the position of chairman of the Federation of International DroneSoccer Association (FIDA).

Since its inception, the sport has conquered twenty countries, but is by far the most popular in South Korea, where there are more than 2,000 teams.

In the United States, there are only three teams, but more than 5,000 young people have learned the basics, Greenhalgh said, noting, “They learn everything, including drone maintenance.”

The first pro league was launched last year and the first Drone Football World Cup is scheduled for October 2025 in South Korea, Ro said.

His hope is to make the sport as big as regular football.

“FIFA attracts three billion people. I dream that this will be the same for drone football,” he said, while also expressing hope for an eventual inclusion in the Olympics.

In the exhibition match in Vegas, the red team leads 6-4. The action is still fast.

Only a team’s most important attacker can score. After each goal, the ‘donut’ turns red for a few seconds. The attacker must retreat near his own objective before he can launch a new attack, aided by another attacker.

If the attacker has to leave the match due to a technical problem, his teammate takes over as goal scorer, said Greenhalgh, one of 25 American professional players.

FIDA has drawn up clear rules that determine how much the drones can weigh. Each drone is checked before a game starts and must not weigh more than 1.2 kilograms, including the battery pack.

Competitively, a game consists of three three-minute periods, broken up by five-minute breaks so players can make any necessary repairs and recalibrate their drones.

Ultimately the exhibition ended in an 11-11 draw. Thirty minutes later the players started again, much to the delight of the new spectators.


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Photos / AFP-Jiji
Above: Spectators watch a match. Below: Competitors position their drone for a competition.
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