A new exhibit at the Space Foundation’s Discovery Center in Colorado Springs will give visitors the chance to play with cutting-edge drone technology in a game that mimics the fantasy sport of Quidditch featured in the Harry Potter series.
The exhibit, which opened Tuesday, is the second drone soccer installation in the U.S.
Drone soccer started in South Korea and has since spread to other countries including the U.S., where David Roberts helped co-found U.S. Drone Soccer, a national community of schools and organizations working to bolster engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math through the sport of drone soccer.
Since the Space Foundation’s Discovery Center reopened in late June many of the interactive exhibits were removed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Rachel English, the registrar and curator for the Discovery Center.
But drone soccer gives museumgoers the chance to engage with an exhibit while maintaining social distance.
The drone soccer arena is a large box of netting hung from the ceiling where players can stand far from each other while they play.
Inside the arena are drones that players operate using what looks like a video game controller. The object of the game is to fly the drone through a hoop hung inside the arena.
Drones are typically delicate pieces of equipment that break upon impact. But U.S. Drone Soccer, with the help of iFlight, a tech company, designed a protective casing that looks like a rubber ball around the drone to allow it to crash without breaking, said Kyle Sanders, vice president of U.S. Drone Soccer.
“It’s going to be dynamic,” Sanders said
The showcase of the installation culminates with a tournament where 20 professional drone pilots will play the game and create tutorial videos for schools to use in robotics classes.
The exhibit will be open to the public until Oct. 16 with the tournament on Oct. 17.
“I care about this pipeline of bringing students into science and technology careers,” Sanders said. “Students, especially from underserved communities, may not see the pathways or be able to find that passion for science for technology.”
Sanders said U.S. Drone Soccer, beyond trying to start its own sports league, is also working with school robotics classes to provide starter kits where students can build and fly their own drones to play drone soccer.
“This is something they can hold in their hands, and they don’t realize they’re learning,” Sanders said. “They’re having fun but at the same time they have to soldering, they learn coding, they have to learn physics and how this works just to get it flying.”