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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Drone Ball, a Sport of the Future

As I get set to watch another round of NFL playoffs, I can marvel at how little sports has changed in this country during the past 100 years. American sports has been centered around the same games for the past 100 years: football, baseball, and basketball. What happened to all the futuristic sports we were supposed to have by now? It was supposed to be something a little like the visual below, which imagines a futuristic sport of sky racing.



But in the future, the big three sports leagues may get competition from sports leagues organized around robots. Although there are potentially an infinite number of exotic games one could create using robots and drones, I imagine that robot-based sports will probably be based on human sports. It is easy to imagine one possibility: boxing robots, as already imagined in the film Real Steel.

We can also imagine a new sport in which the players would be robots and drones, rather than humans. The sport would be based on football, and it could be called Drone Ball. Rather than having the sport be an exact clone of football, it would be more interesting if this Drone Ball sport had some new rules that took advantage of the flying abilities of drones. This would open up quite a few new strategic possibilities for game play.

Let us imagine some interesting rules for this sport:
  1. As in football, each team can have no more than 11 players on the field. Six of these players must be ground-based robots incapable of flying. The other five players must be flying drones.
  2. As in football, there is a ball that can be handed off to a running back. A running play by a running back will be considered to be over as soon as the robot ball carrier is touched by a robot of the opposing team (as in touch football). Tackles are eliminated, because of the difficulty of creating robots that can rise up again after being tackled.
  3. A pass by the quarterback may be made to either a robot traveling on the ground, or a drone flying in the air. The forward progress of a drone flying in the air (after catching a thrown ball) will be halted as soon as soon as a drone from the other team touches it. A flying drone may be designed with any hardware that allows it to catch a thrown ball, such as funnel-like attachments, suction tube attachments, or appendages that mimic human hands.
  4. Every drone and robot will contain sensors detecting whether it has been touched by an opposing player, and such sensors will be linked together in a computing system. That computing system will act as the game referee, eliminating the need for human referees. The same computing system will announce any fouls or penalties as soon as they are detected (equivalent to throwing a yellow flag on a football play).
  5. Flying drones may be equipped with rubber deflection projectiles they can fire at flying drones of the other team, to divert them from their selected pass route.  Similarly, wide-receiver drones may fire rubber deflection projectiles at members of the opposite team, to keep them away.
  6. A quarterback robot can have a throwing arm capable of making passes as long as 100 yards, as well as a computer capable of trajectory calculations much better than any human can perform.

One can imagine how many interesting strategic options would be presented in such a game. A “wide receiver” drone designed to catch a thrown ball would not be limited to merely running pass routes on the ground. It could also choose any pass route in the air. The total number of possible pass routes would therefore be many times greater . A spectator watching in the stadium might often see types of pass routes he had never witnessed before, something that virtually never happens today. Such routes might include midair hovering, sudden vertical dives, unexpected vertical ascents, and anything else the drone was physically capable of.

A flying drone on the defending team (the equivalent of a cornerback or safety) would also have some new strategic options. It would not simply be a choice of following a receiver on the other team, or trying to intercept the ball. There would also be the option of whether or not to fire a deflection projectile designed to deflect that wide receiver drone from its current route. If the flying defending drone chose a “zone defense,” it would have to defend not just a two-dimensional region of space like a flat plane, but instead a three-dimensional region of space like a cube. One can only imagine what type of “cubic defenses” the Bill Belichicks of the future might think up.

Spectators of this Drone Ball sport would be required to wear protective helmets such as hard hats, to protect them in the rare case when a mis-programmed drone crashed into the spectator stands.