When we first met drone designer Andy Shen, he was standing in a freezing park in the Bronx, zipping his mini quadcopter around at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour in a first person view drone race. But there was more buzzing around the park that day than just his quadcopter. The pilots there were stoked about a secret project Shen had been working on for months: the world's first-ever Nerf-disc shooting drone.
Late last month, Shen finally got the production model of his Blast quadcopter, and he agreed to let us test it out in an empty warehouse in Brooklyn (it's been too windy and miserable in New York to fly outdoors).
The Blast is early tech, sure, but it signals where drones are going. When Shen and rival racer and drone designer Ryan Gury spoke to us last time, they hinted that racing was just the first part of what would become a new sport. Once drones were (safely) armed, Mario Kart-style races, with projectiles and obstacles would be possible, they said.
To be fair, the aerial combat league Game of Drones has been hosting drone battles for quite some time now, but none of those league battles feature projectiles (except in jury-rigged tests). This is the first production model drone you can order online, load up with projectiles, and start shooting at things.
Shen's drone is a step toward the future. Shen and Gury went head-to-head in the world's first ever drone dogfight, and, while there wasn't really a winner (thanks to the warehouse's difficult flying conditions), maybe we'll eventually look back at this day as one for the record books.
Update: This post has been updated to note the existence of Game of Drones.