U.S. Drone Soccer Inspires Diversity: an International Women’s Day Special Report

As we celebrate International Womens Day today, we applaud the efforts of those in the drone industry that continue to make a difference to welcome all types of people into our community. Over the past several months, weve seen a deliberate movement to change terminology to reflect that welcoming stance, from AUVSIs new name (Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International) to official Federal Aviation Administration terms like Notice to Air Missions” (instead of Airmen). We publish this special report about the efforts of one company, U.S. Drone Soccer, as one example of many who have made it a mission imperative to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry.

U.S. Drone Soccer Inspires Diverse Workforce of Tomorrow

By: Dawn M.K. Zoldi

The global drone market is projected to reach $58 billion by 2026, according to MarketsandMarkets Research. However, just as in many other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, women remain underrepresented, both in the U.S. and globally. Education is key to creating a sufficient talent pipeline to sustain a booming drone industry, especially as it continues to grow. U.S. Drone Soccer, leaders of a novel e-sport-meets-STEM program, has made it a company mission to kick start diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to meet workforce development needs. And its kicking off big in 2022.

An Industry Diversity Gap 

According to the U.K.-based International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, approximately one percent of drone sales through the year 2018 were to women, compared to about ninety-eight percent to men. 2016 Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) statistics showed that women held fewer than four percent of remote pilot certificates at the time. In Australia, fewer than fifty women were certified commercial drone pilots. In four prominent drone firms, the number of women in executive positions ranged from only nine to thirty percent.

More recently, data collected through the Women and Drones – P3 Tech Consulting (P3 Tech) and the Diversity Development Network of Canada (DDNC) 2021 UAS/AAM Industry DEI Survey conducted between August 6 and September 17, 2021, shows that when asked Please indicate the percentage ranges of leadership positions among the following diverse groups you employ in your UAS/AAM or UAS/AAM-related Business or Organization,” the highest rankings of diverse groups of leadership positions representing 71% to 85% of senior management positions within respondent organizations were the White Racial Category.

Almost 75% of respondents said they also felt moderate to extreme concern about the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the UAS/AAM industry in general. More than 80% of respondents expressed concern, ranging from moderate to extreme, about the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their own UAS/AAM or UAS/AAM-related Business or Organization.

The data reflects reality. But appearances also impact reality. A study of 1,617 drone images on Thinkstock only three included images of women and girls engaging with drones. A similar review of Shutterstock revealed four girls, twenty-eight boys, twelve women, but over one-hundred men.

Gender, of course, comprises merely one facet of diversity. Diversity encompasses other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, other ability and other identity factors. Many minority identity groups remain underrepresented in STEM fields and the drone industry.

In September 2021, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council, a component of the Executive Office of the President, produced a report titled, Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion in STEM Education and Research: A Guide By and For Federal Agencies.” The groups literature review resulted in a compilation of evidence-based best practices. Among these, STEM Pathways, a skills and knowledge-based approach, emerged as a central theme. The report listed authentic and culturally relevant STEM engagement and research experiences for youth and interns,” as one of the Top 5 Best Practices for Diversity and Inclusion in STEM Currently Used by Federal Agencies.

Although this report targeted the federal workforce, its relevance speaks broadly to the larger public and commercial drone sectors. So, how can we attain such authentic and culturally relevant STEM engagements for the next generation of diverse drone pilots and ecosystem leaders? Enter: U.S. Drone Soccer.

Diversity as Mission

U.S. drone soccer

Drone soccer, an up-and-coming innovative and fun esport, doubles as a STEM education program. Other articles have described how U.S. Drone Soccer works (see previous DroneLife coverage here), but essentially, it is an exciting Harry-Potteresque type competition using a drone encased in an exoskeleton that incorporates computer science, aerospace engineering, and airmanship skills and tactics.

The sport began in South Korea and made its way across Europe. In 2018, the World Air Sports Federation (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) sanctioned drone soccer as an international sport, the only educational robotics competition to attain such status. In early 2020, parent company Drone Sports Inc.. introduced U.S. Drone Soccer to North America.

Headquartered in Olympic City, USA,” Colorado Springs, U.S. Drone Soccer aims to lead adoption of aerospace education with classroom educational programs and after school competitive leagues for students (ages 12 and up) locally, nationally and globally. Perhaps equally important, the companys leaders have infused DEI into its culture from its inception.

U.S. Drone Soccer President and CEO, David Roberts, who previously took the U.S. Drone Racing Team to two FAI World Championships, wanted to ensure that diversity was at the core of the companys culture. Our mission is to make aerospace education accessible for all students,” said Roberts. This takes deliberate thought and action in everything we do. We are removing barriers for entry by keeping costs low, partnering with schools and nonprofit organizations in underrepresented areas and using state-of-the-art technology to level the playing field.”

U.S. drone soccer

The company created an ad hoc Youth Engagement Strategy to help inform its own diversity pathway. This volunteer team includes volunteers from the Federal Aviation Administration, Academy of Model Aeronautics and the group that published the industry DEI survey (Women And Drones, P3 Tech and DDNC). Based on the groups input, U.S. Drone Soccer has made accessibility the first of its three core values. The goal: to intentionally extend career pathways to diverse co-ed students as they enter high school.

Accessibility is key to the launch of these youth development programs, which are being first introduced in the U.S. primarily through Career and Technical Education (CTE) and regional nonprofits with a focus on underserved school districts,” explained Kyle Sanders (Major, U.S. Air Force Retired), V.P. of Education and Development for U.S. Drone Soccer, a former Air Force Academy instructor pilot and disabled veteran.

Spreading the Word and the Tech

True to its mission, U.S. Drone Soccer tested the program over the past year in Colorado with several Title I high schools and community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region. Now they are expanding with new leagues also in New York, Ohio, and internationally.

U.S. Drone Soccer recently partnered with New York-based CNY Drones, supported by the nearby Air Force Research Laboratory, to grow a statewide league of diverse students. Organizations joining their effort include universities, community colleges, the New York Police Department, and community outreach programs such as Drone Cadets. Co-founded by Tony Reid, an African American Part 107 pilot and Army reservist, Drone Cadets has inspired more than a thousand co-ed students from historically underrepresented groups throughout the Hudson Valley to embrace drone technology.

In addition to the programs national focus, the U.S. Drone Soccer team introduced its esport North of the border in partnership with Project Safe Canada, who provide drone training to indigenous communities. Drone Soccer is something that fits well into our community wellness and training programs,” explained Mark Palka, Managing Director, Project Safe Canada. We recently launched Drone Soccer Canada with a Train the Trainer in Vegreville Alberta Canada and were excited with the indigenous youth communitys acceptance of it as both an educational product and as a competitive sport.”

The company also secured U.S. Consulate funding, in partnership with the Global Air Drone Academy (GADA), to travel to Lagos, Nigeria, Africa, to develop the first-ever African drone soccer program. The innovative program, conditioned on forming eight girl-led teams across Lagos State District 1 to compete in an African Drone Soccer Competition, made history by bringing the first e-sport to the Big Continent. We are beyond excited to have pioneered the newest emerging e-sport in Africa. Drones are an innovative and engaging tool that can be used to inspire all students to pursue education and careers in STEM,” said Eno Umoh, GADA Co-Founder.

U.S. drone soccer

U.S. Drone Soccer plans to hone its DEI policies and continue walking the DEI talk. The company will be providing a demonstration event consisting of diverse national youth exhibition teams at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, this summer.

Find more information about U.S. Drone Soccer and its DEI efforts at: https://www.dronesoccer.us/

Read more about drone soccer and diversity in the drone industry:

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an intIernationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, a columnist for several magazines,recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. For more information, visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.