This article originally appears on Drone Sports and has been republished with permission.
Drone pilots, makers, hobbyists, and fans — The EFF and ASL need your help regarding several bills working their way through the CA legislature that will have dire consequences for those of us engaged in robotic combat sports and educational programs. A.B. 1820 and S.B. 868 are designed to restrict weaponized drones that can cause property damage and impose fines and up to 6 months jail time. While well-intended with public safety in mind, these laws do not take into consideration the popularity and educational value of drone combat games. With the help of the EFF and others, ASL hopes to amend these bills to allow drone sports to continue legally.
California is at the heart of so much technology and entertainment innovation. Robot combat sports, with its origins in California, are now a global phenomenon. Bay Area RoboGames is one of the largest robotic events in the world according to Guinness, and after a decade-long hiatus, the original robot combat series BattleBots returns to ABC primetime for a second season featuring TV’s largest drone combat production.
For the past three years, the Aerial Sports Foundation and Aerial Sports League (formerly Game of Drones) have promoted drone combat games to large, enthusiast audiences of families, educators, and fans at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, winning three Editor’s Choice and 2016 Best in Class awards. The ASL combat arena features a net-enclosed safety cage, strict safety procedures, and mandatory compliance with all local, state, and FAA imposed restrictions. The ASL has hosted hundreds of pilots and exhibited combat competitions and training for over 250,000 live spectators in dozens of events. The drone combat community has a spotless safety record and proven to be a prime example of safe, friendly, and educational use of drones for good.
One of the rising stars of drone combat games is 16 year old Kyle Ettinger, a budding engineer who has continually dominated the ASL combat games with his award-winning defensive innovations and ingenious offensive weapons. In 2015, Kyle went undefeated (22-0) in the combat arena and in 2016 he won the “Best Innovation” award for his simple, yet devastating net-launching drone design.
Another outstanding competitor is 12 year old Jesse Gunn, who also servers as ASL’s drone training captain at Maker Faire, having trained hundreds of children and adults in the basics of safe drone piloting. At Maker Faire 2016, Jesse amazed the crowd with his simple, yet devastating drone — consisting of little more than a tiny toy drone with a balloon ribbon dangling below. The simplicity of the design belied its true power to bring down drones ten times larger. Jesse placed third overall against well-funded competitors from around the globe. If the new CA bills become law, Jesse, his parents, and his toy ribbon drone would be considered illegal and subject to thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time.
The ASL is working with partners from the Hiller Aviation Museum, SF Innovation Hangar, SF Drone School, and others to host and organize drone-based STEM programs, educational outreach, events, and build-a-thons. ASL also provides the tools, curriculum, and resources to enable others to conduct their own STEM and “drones for good” programs. With education budgets shrinking, robotic competitions, drones, and STEM have been embraced by educators as ideal tools for engaging students in engineering, math, and sciences The loss of the robotic combat community and the passion they share for engineering, math, and science would have a devastating impact on STEM programs in California and throughout the country.
Act now and demand California lawmakers support robot combat games and educational programs. Stop the criminalization of drone combat sports in California!