When STEM and Sports Collide: The Atlanta Falcons Will Use Drone Technology to Disinfect Mercedes-Benz Stadium

This was originally posted by Joe Lemire by Sports Techie.

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium will welcome the din and the roar of fans for the first time this fall for the Falcons’ next home game on Sunday, Oct. 11, but a buzz will still fill the venue this weekend as a pair of drones canvas the entire seating bowl.

MBS is partnering with Lucid Drone Technologies on an innovative plan to spray disinfectant across the stadium’s 71,000 seats. Lucid, a Charlotte-based company that builds bespoke drones, is outfitting its machines with electrostatic spraying nozzles to spray the cleaning solution anywhere fans may sit.

The first application this weekend is an every-90-days inhibitor that prevents any particle from sticking to a surface. After each game, MBS will use its homemade hypochlorous acid solution that kills more than 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including the novel coronavirus. 

Jackie Poulakos, MBS’s manager of building services, first contacted Lucid about a year ago to discuss plans to do exterior window washing—MBS has an extraordinary amount of glass, including a 16-story window on its west side. “It took us almost through January or February, to have some sort of a good plan for outside and then COVID hit,” Poulakos says. “And then everything just went from, ‘OK, well, now we have to switch gears,’ and we went from thinking we can do this on the outside to we could potentially do something inside with drones.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a 2017 SportTechie award winner for Most Innovative Venue, is now the first NFL or MLS venue to use disinfecting drones. It will use two regularly, with a third on standby. Trial studies indicate that two drones can disinfect MBS in five hours, compared to about 75 hours of manual work using backpack sprayers. 

Lucid was founded in 2018 with a goal of making exterior cleaning safer and more efficient. “We originally started out of humanitarian concern, wanting to fix the way multistoried structures were cleaned,” says Lucid CEO and co-founder Andrew Ashur. “So think about window washing, pressure washing. Rather than needing to rely on a lift, ladder and scaffold, we were trying to leverage drone technology to do that window washing, that roof cleaning—you name the surface, we tried to clean it with a drone.”

In March, the founding team started planning adaptations to prevent spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Lucid is working with one SEC university and has done demos for a couple dozen pro sports franchises. “In the midst of the pandemic, when we started to hear from the cleaning industry more generally was people were just inundated with disinfecting jobs and were asking how our technology can be useful, so we pivoted to modify several things on our drones to begin spraying disinfectant solution versus exterior cleaning solution,” Ashur says.

Lucid considers itself a technology provider and doesn’t provide pilots. Instead, they offer flight training to venue operators so they have the flexibility to use drones as they see fit. Poulakos laughs while recounting how her staff members were eager for the opportunity to try “anything that requires buttons and joysticks.” This new round of disinfecting is additive to MBS’ post-event recovery plans, so this is not replacing any jobs.

“That’s the beauty of it—everyone will continue to work,” Poulakos says. “We’ll just be able to continue cleaning in other parts of our building while our operators are flying the drones. In fact, we’ve actually added the two positions of the drone operators that we didn’t have before.”

Atlanta United is also planning to welcome fans for its home soccer matches. Even though it plays at MBS on Wednesday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 10, the MLS club won’t start permitting fans until at least its following home date on Oct. 24.

Lucid runs diagnostic tests remotely, minimizing the on-site maintenance that needs to be done. It also created its own navigation system that does not reply on GPS, which can suffer interference in and around large stadiums.

“The one thing that attracted me to Lucid was the fact that they don’t use DJI drones, because we’re not a cookie-cutter building,” Poulakos says. “And so I needed to work with someone who understood our needs and could put something together to fit our needs, and not us try to mold to help whatever it is the drone can offer.”

How this related to STEM Sports®:

In every STEM Sports® module, there is a section that indicates STEM jobs in sports that relate to the lesson’s objective. Of course, this is done to give students context of what they are learning. In reality, it answers the age old question: “why do I have to learn this.” Through our company’s experience, we have seen increased engagements when students have real-world context to the concepts they are learning. 

In relation to the Atlanta Falcons using drones to clean their stadium after games, we see this as a STEM job in sports! At first thought, one may think that a STEM job in sports has to be outright. But, it doesn’t! This is a perfect example of seeing STEM and sports collide. The engineers who created these drones created them for the Atlanta Falcons. Working “in sports” does not have to be constant in order to be a part of the sports industry. These engineers did something to progress the technology use in the sports industry and that is enough for us at STEM Sports® to see STEM and sports combine!

The goal of our curricula is to help kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth grade students improve their STEM literacy. We do this by using the unique combination of STEM and sports. This allows both left and right brained students to engage in each module. When we see a story such as this, we are thrilled that the students that engage in our curriculum can see a current, real life example of what they could be doing in the future! 

As STEM continues to gain momentum, STEM Sports® cannot wait to see what other ways the world of STEM and sport collide! 

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