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A look at drone racing in 2018: it’s getting huge

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In the fall of 2014 the first official FPV (first person view) drone race was held at Apollo XI RC Field in Los Angeles, California.

Four years have since passed and this high-tech sport has positively flourished.  In April, the Drone Champions League (DCL), one of the world’s largest professional racing organizations, held an event along the the famous AV. Des Champs-Élsees in Paris which was watched by 150,000 fans. A rival organization, the Drone Racing League, will this year host races in the US, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia which are broadcast in more than 90 countries on channels such as ESPN and Sky Sports. The winner, to be decided by the final event in November will take away at least$100,000. Just remember, this sport is still in its infancy.

The basics

For those of you not in the know, drone racing goes as follows: competitors don a pair of goggles that provide them with video feed from a camera mounted on the front of their drones. Racing drones are capable of accelerating from 0-60 miles in just 2 seconds and competitors stand or sit with their controllers and racing goggles and navigate theirs craft as fast as possible through a set obstacle course involving intricate turns, flips and rings. They make split second movements using their controller’s joysticks which impact the direction, pitch, speed, and tilt of the drone.

The 2016 and 2017 Drone Racing League Champion from the USA Jordan ‘Jet’ Temkin.

Racing drones differ from your regular consumer model in a number of ways. They are built for speed and streamlined for aerodynamic performance. The cost of this light weight is that they can’t stay in the air for very long. Drone battery life is fairly average at the best of times and racing drones go so hard, they generally don’t stay airborne longer than 5 minutes.

An example of an FPV drone track.

A constantly evolving sport

Every year brings more events, increasingly complex race courses, rules for competition and prize pools getting ever-larger. Along with that, the competitors are upskilling, competing in more races and getting ever-quicker. There’s enough money in the game now that some competitors are able to make drone racing their full-time profession.

This month, the Drone Racing League (DRL and different from DCL) launched a competition in which teams of university students and other drone enthusiasts use autonomous drones to compete in races against professional drone pilots. The first team to beat a professional pilot with an AI drone will win $250,000. While humans currently have the upper-hand against this gen of AI, it’s expected that by 2020, humans will struggle to defeat AI around the racing courses.

This Drone Racing League, the DRL X achieved Guiness World Record speed record of 164 mph (264) in 2017. It weighs 1.7 pounds (800 grams)

The attraction of the sport is easy to see and similar to other types of racing: high speeds, crashes increasingly complex tracks and more dimensions to work with than ground-based racing. The below video posted to Drone Racing League’s YouTube channel this week gives you an idea of what sorts of tracks competitors are working with.

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