Indoor Arenas / Facilities

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A Place Drones Can Call Home: For Flying, Fighting and More

24 Aug, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
New UAV-Specific Facilities Set Standard for Competitions, Create Potential for Sports Tourism

The U.S. Open and its retractable roof and new grandstands? That high-tech stadium the Atlanta Falcons are building? Meh. Get ready for the most innovative type of sports facility on the market: the drone arena.

Nope, not an open field where people can fly their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when soccer and lacrosse teams aren’t playing – and not an old unused warehouse either. This is a venue that is purpose-built to allow drone operators a flying experience, and to allow them to sharpen their skills.

The 4,500-square-foot facility, known as DJI Drone Arena, threw open its doors in Seoul, South Korea, earlier this month. According to an article in Digital Trends, the arena’s amenities include adjustable LED-lit circuit where pilots can test out their flying skills, LCD TVs giving spectators a first-person view from UAVs in flight, a space for learning more about drone technology, and even a maintenance room for minor repairs should a pilot’s beloved drone sustain damage following a harder-than-expected landing (otherwise known as a crash.) Oh, and for those junior pilots (age 8-16), there’s a “Flying Academy” – as well as an adult learning program. As an aside: way to build up that client base, DJI.

In the interest of reducing the risk of mid-air collisions, the space allows a maximum of only 12 pilots at any one time.

So why South Korea and why now for DJI’s debut Drone Arena?

“Since the opening of our Korea flagship store a few months ago, we’ve seen increasing interest in drones from consumers, many of whom are learning about the technology for the first time, from tech-savvy teenagers to retirees looking for their next hobby,” DJI’s Kevin On told Digital Trends.

And with the DJI facility’s already booming success, it’s a sure bet that similar arenas will be built stateside as well. Already, some areas are incorporating drone activities into existing spaces, although there has yet to be a drone-only venue. In April, Drone University USA announced the opening of its Southern California training facility, designed to help those who need it obtain their Commercial Operator Training and Certification. And with the first U.S. National Drone Racing Championships in the books, count on seeing a demand for designated drone space.

In June, an article in San Francisco-based SFist noted that a new permanent entertainment complex was setting up shop in the Palace of Fine Arts Innovation Hangar and would establish “San Francisco's first sanctioned indoor flying space for drones.”

A group of drone hobbyists called the Aerial Sports League (ASL) had the concept of the entertainment complex, a combination racetrack, battle arena, sports bar and pro shop for their fellow drone enthusiasts, a facility described by Popular Science as a “modern Chuck E. Cheese for adults.” The group almost immediately began holding “Drink & Drones” events at their fledgling facility, followed by (no kidding here) aerial combat dogfighting known as Drone Combat Smackdown.

Drone warfare? It’s an aspect of the sport that is on the grow, according to blogger The Drone Girl, who noted, “Drone racing is already pretty sweet, having garnered media attention in the wake of the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai earlier this year, when  15-year-old winner Luke Bannister walked away with a $250,000 prize, and later when ESPN announced drone racing would air. But drone combat is on my mind recently. It’s fast-paced and high-action. It draws cheers and groans from the crowd. And it’s going to become the next date night adventure for residents and tourists in San Francisco.”

The rapid acceleration of UAVs and related sports is something cities should be looking at, according to enthusiasts. After all, it brings in everyone from experts to spectators to neophytes, and provides positive buzz, not to mention economic impact. And (bonus point) concussions are rare.

“We see this as the first in a series of franchise opportunities that we’re looking at opening around the country,” Marque Cornblatt of the Aerial Sports League told Drone Girl.

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