Gamers to Drone Pilots: American Football, Amazon and Everything in Between

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are seemingly everywhere these days, operated by backyard hobbyists and trained military pilots alike. Some of the most talented drone pilots, however, can be found within the ranks of the gaming community.

Several recent studies, including one conducted by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, have found that gamers are well-suited to be drone operators. The study focused on aspects of participant personalities, including conscientiousness, extroversion, and neuroticism. A low neuroticism score indicated the ability to handle stressful situations, and gamers scores were nearly identical to scores among professional pilots to which they were compared.

The U.S. military has begun to take notice of the unique skills of gamers, and they are actively recruiting teenage gamers to become tomorrow’s drone pilots. Drones are used in the military as a means of observation as well as defense, reconnaissance, and combat. Many gamers already have firsthand experience with virtual simulations and problem-solving while under pressure, making them an ideal choice for military drone operation.

The Prevalence of UAVs

The UAV market has grown exponentially in recent years, with the U.S. military drone budget surpassing $9 billion this year. Billions are spent annually on developing drone technology around the world. Within military applications, some of the developing tech includes training programs that simulate enemy aircraft, as well as recruitment games that collect data on possible pilot candidates.


The U.S. Air Force is at the forefront of this burgeoning data collection technology. Their proposed recruitment game anonymously measures the performance of high school students, who are given various scenarios to work through. Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, head of the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command, said that the game can measure a user’s “critical, creative, conceptual, constructive, contextual, and collaborative thinking.”

UAVs are also popular among civilians, with a reported 100,000 registered drone operators in the U.S. With the prevalence of drones comes unique challenges, including the potential for operator error. While the Federal Aviation Administration has guidelines in place that drone operators are encouraged to follow, there’s no guarantee that civilian operators will adhere to those guidelines.

The FAA recommends registering drones, flying at no more than 400 feet, and being aware of FAA Airspace Restrictions. Further, civilian drone operators should never fly near other aircraft, over large groups of people or events, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

From Disaster Relief to Entertainment

Where commercial drones are concerned, the military isn’t the only job sector in need of operators. Drones are transforming business across many industries, including real estate, construction, agriculture, and the entertainment industry. These UAVs can improve workplace safety, survey and inspect farmland with lightning-fast efficiency, and even save lives. In fact, the use of drones on construction sites can drastically improve safety.

Disaster relief efforts are also improved with the use of drones. Eastern Kentucky University reports that “drones and robots have been used to locate survivors and transmit information to emergency teams. They have also been used to drop humanitarian aid.” As 139 million people worldwide are affected by a natural disaster each year, drone technology makes it possible to save more lives and render aid in a more efficient manner.

But drone technology isn’t all about disaster relief, military combat, and workplace safety. Drones are also regularly used to record and stream sporting events. For example, during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, drones performed entertainment, broadcasting, and security services. And in 2015, the FAA approved the use of drones to fly and record above stadiums at NFL games.

Gaming Skills and Drone Pilots

Drone pilots must be able to multitask, think on their feet, quickly interpret data, and make informed decisions. The same skills are an asset when it comes to playing video games. However, that’s only part of the picture when it comes to drone operation. While operating a drone, pilots are faced with downtime, where not much is happening, during about 90 percent of operation.

Studies show that gamers may not be able to handle so much potential for boredom. Associate Professor Missy Cummings studied ways to improve drone pilot performance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said that gamers are “so conditioned to non-stop action while playing games that they’re prone to boredom in real-life scenarios.” Cummings and her team found that the best drone operators often need distractions to help manage their boredom, such as using laptops and smartphones, eating, and reading magazines.

Despite their propensity towards boredom, many gamers have developed skills over time that make them attractive drone pilot candidates. Gaming has numerous health benefits, including improving vision and spatial recognition, enhancing brain flexibility, and increasing hand-eye coordination. These benefits translate well into military and commercial drone operation; thus, many industries will continue to look to gamers to fill drone operator job openings into the future.

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