Drone Racing Prides Itself On Being the Ultimate Spectator Sport
Mashing up motorsports and videogames, this competition has broad appeal
Humans have found ways to race pretty much everything. Racing boats, planes, bicycles, wheelchairs, sleds, lawnmowers, school busses, motorcycles and, of course, cars are all fueled by competitive spirit and a desire to challenge technology and engineering boundaries. We can add drones to that list as 2016 looks to be the year when drone racing establishes itself as a legitimate competitive sport.
Drone racing videos on Youtube are gaining in popularity, with some racking up more than a million views and counting. We wanted to know what the draw to the new sport was all about, so we spoke with Nicholas Horbaczewski, DRL Founder and CEO, to explain the appeal,
“Drone racing is all about speed and the adrenalin rush that comes with it. The sport captures elements of motor racing, but translates them to 3D space. We also use unique environments as circuits. Races are held places like abandoned industrial factories or sports stadiums. We look for venues that provide a challenge to the pilots and an interesting visual backdrop for spectators.”
Pilots compete in short heat races, each lasting only about 90 seconds to two minutes long where they have to navigate a course of checkpoints that register time. The pilot through all the checkpoints in the shortest time wins the race. Pilots fly the drones via a controller and goggles which show a first-person view of the drone’s flightpath from front-mounted cameras. The drones are capable of speeds of 80 mph.
“People can do what we call ‘copiloting’ and watch the race through goggles as well. They get to experience the same view as the pilot through the cameras on the front of each drone. The sensation of flying blurs the line between what is virtual and what’s real.”
Drone racing doesn’t yet have the big name sponsors like F1 or NASCAR and their star pilots are household names. The sport is very much in an exhibition stage of its life but it does have elements not foreign to other forms of racing. Horbaczewski acknowledges there’s opportunities ahead for the sport and potential for lots of spinoff technology.
“We are in the infancy of drone technology. Although it’s already a multi-billion dollar industry. This is the beginning of raising a generation of drone pilots around the globe. The skills and abilities of pilots will only get better as time moves on. It’ll be exciting to watch for sure.”