The adoption of drones has steadily increased over the past year, and with more owners of drones comes with more opportunities for community-building activities, such as the flash-fire scene of competitive racing. Take all of your preconceived notions of what drone racing might look like and throw them out the window, unless you’re picturing a real life pod race, then you might be onto something.
Drone racing has gained so much momentum, there is now a huge push to try to get it recognized by big sports broadcasters, like ESPN. All of the major elements that make a sport exciting are already built into the equipment itself: drones with mounted cameras.
Start your Engines
Just picture this: sleek, buzzing machines, no bigger than a shoebox, speeding over 80mph in front of you; if you blink, you miss them completely. As the drones quickly escape your line of sight, you peer down to your iPad in front of you to get a first-person view of your selected pilot, adrenaline pumps as every turn and every close-call feels real, like you are the one in the cockpit.
It’s because of this first-person, high-paced action that drone racing has attracted so much attention. Tournament prizes now dip into the million dollar range, as more advertisers and special interests back this new hobby-turned-sport.
Hopes and Aspirations
The potential for drone racing to become a watchable sport is there, but getting it to a mainstream audience will take time, as with any new sport. Just look at e-sports, a potential moniker that could be used to describe drone racing, it took years of observing success in Korea, Japan, and the underground scenes in America before industry players and investors really threw their hats into the ring.
With that said, drone racing is arguably much simpler to incorporate into a TV and spectator format, logistically. Borrowing from NASCAR, videogames, and even X-Games, it’s all a matter of putting together a slick enough package to sell to the entertainment industry.
Thinking of putting together your own package and getting involved, but aren’t quite sure how? It’s actually more accessible than you might think; you don’t need to be rich to fly the not-so-friendly skies like Anakin Skywalker.
Drone Racing 101
Anyone can go on Amazon to buy themselves the latest quadcopter, the most common category of drones, but even the most expensive ones aren’t made to race, unless they say it. The typical quad is far too heavy, weighing over 2 pounds more than your drone racers.
While they are physically smaller and lighter, the best racing drone is always among the most resilient ones on the market. They have to be built to last, which means being able to recover from bumps, scrapes, and full-on crashes. They usually come standard with replacement propellers, as these will be the first things to break on impact. All the core components that make up the bulk of your investment should be able to last you for more than just a few crashes.
With drone racing, you can’t participate without the assistance of FPV goggles. Did you think VR was just a gimmick? Well, in drone racing, it can essentially shrinking you down to the size of a grasshopper, strap you to a high-speed copter, while you’re grabbing onto a controller to live out your childhood fantasies of becoming a superhero or Top Gun pilot; maybe a mix of both?
When you get good at flying out in an open field, you will move onto areas with walls, columns, obstacles, etc. Then, when you’re really comfortable with how your racing drone handles, you’ll move onto indoor areas that closely resemble real racing experience.
Some people prefer to be dropped right in the middle of amateur racing, but that is not truly a smart idea if you’re working on a budget and want to take this hobby/sport seriously at some point. There’s a lot more involved here besides flying skills, of course. You have lots of technical and engineering knowledge that goes into a drone, it’s like a cross between racecar tuning and computer programming.
Your First Races
When do decide to hit the scene and look for your first tracks, you’ll quickly realize there is no central body of governance, rules, or organizing. There are however, three basic types of races that you’ll be able to choose from wherever you happen to sign up. Those are: time trails, motorcross, and drag races.
Time trials is where everyone should get their feet wet first, learning the course is key to victory. The last thing you want to do is go into a multi-drone race and either get lapped into oblivion or pummeled in an untimely mid-air crash. Crashing during a time trial is no biggy, because you can concentrate on exactly what went wrong, with no other variables in the way.
Motorcross, also commonly known as rotorcross, is your standard drone race, where four racing drones compete the requisite number of laps to win the race, without crashing. It’s limited to four drones due to technical limitations on streaming video signals, which needs to be clear, delay-free, and without interference.
Drag racing works exactly how it always has for land-based vehicles for generations. This is where engineering buffs and programming experts can show their prowess, as they push the limits to what drones are capable of every year.
Future Development of Drone Racing
As drone racing competitions become more structured and organizers work out the early growth quirks and shortcomings, we begin to see something that resembles a professional league start to show through. Rules and regulations need to be in-place in order for these tournaments that host large prize pools to be successful. There are already a few competing brands that look to become the faces of drone racing. One of the biggest, The Drone Racing League, offers the biggest prizes for the most established drivers, who come from all around the world.
With sponsors like Redbull’s Air Racers, we could see drone racing reach the same level of success that e-sports events enjoy today, within a few more years. Younger audiences are changing the way we look and the way we define a sport. It has all the right parts to make for an exciting spectator sport.
Could it be Close?
Just imagine how fun it would be to watch on television, with enthusiastic commentators, similar to how the show Battle Bots was, only with better robots on display. That show was built by nerds and a really low budget, but still achieved moderate success. Fast-forward to today and we have e-sports being shown on multiple networks, with millions of fans following their favorite tournaments on Twitch.tv.
Drone racing has a lot in common with both examples of geeks going mainstream, but it also offers it’s own brand of fun that carries a level of familiarity with traditional racing, which e-sports and extreme sports lack, for example. That opens up a whole new major potentially source of fans and support.
This generation’s NASCAR fans could be the first generation of drone racing fans, carrying us into a new realm of VR sports and fan-accessibility, blurring the lines between sports star dreams and reality.