The burgeoning sport of Drone Racing involves zipping along at high speeds, whizzing through obstacles, banking hard, flipping over, and turning on a dime as you watch through VR goggles. Oh, and crashing too. It can get your head in a spin when you’re wearing goggles and seeing what your drone sees, so much so that it makes you wonder why birds aren’t always throwing up:)
Drone racing leagues may be a fledgling spectator sport but there has been enough interest to attract significant investor interest. At least, for thedroneracingleague.com it has. This company has picked up $8 million in investment and is available on a handful of TV outlets including ESPN. It has a website and a stable of veteran drone pilots. Canada also has it's own quickly growing racing league, http://www.canadiandrl.com.
Pilots race quadcopters decked out with colourful LEDs through sports stadium and warehouses. They don’t just fly straight lines. They have to negotiate detours through hoops and into tunnels, all of which are also brightly lit with LEDs. The racers use FPV (first person view) goggles to receive a continuous stream of what their copter is doing, and one of DRL’s apparent successes has been to ensure a consistent feed to its jockeys.
The live footage may be as lo-res and jumpy as a VHS tape from your parents’ attic, but it’s reliable enough that it doesn’t cut out halfway through and leave pilots flying blind. The low bandwidth requirements allow for almost zero latency and helps pilots fly faster and turn tighter.
The company employs professionals and supplies them with copters, so they aren’t required to crash their own gear, which also guarantees a level of consistency to every race.
In contrast, drone racing leagues like Multi-GP are more of a community affair. This business organizes competitions and gatherings for its 10,000 worldwide members. Part of its success is no doubt due to the popularity of its proprietary Racesync software, which assigns racing slots and video frequencies to pilots in real-time. They can check in with their smart phones when they arrive at a race, be handed a slot and given video frequency that will not impinge upon other pilots. Timing and lap counting software also adds a good deal of convenience and accuracy to the mix.
Multi-GP has created race classes to group drones according to type and power output, so that races are not just decided by who has the best equipment.
The first championship event took place in Muncie Indiana in 2016 and featured 100 pilots. Whether they continue with Multi-GP or end up being plucked from the amateur ranks by DRL, one way or another the sport seems set for a bright future.