It turns out you don’t have to be Anakin Skywalker from The Phantom Menace to be able to race pods… sort of. The new Drone Racing League (DRL) wants to become the eSport of the future! And if you are like and you’re scratching your head right now wondering what in the world is “Drone racing” – well, apparently it is a thing now, and there’s big money behind it trying to make it go mainstream. Forget playing shoot-em-up’s or car racing games online, this thing has some serious Sci-Fi futuristic pedigree. Competitive PC/console gaming has grown into nearly a 1 Billion dollar industry over the last two decades, and the DRL is aiming to even surpass this benchmark by planning races throughout this year, the first one being next month at the Miami Dolphins stadium.
Speaking of the popular NFL team, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, is one of the major financial backers of the DRL, alongside other venture capital firms cumulatively pumping over $8 Million into the DRL.
Although similar leagues have exist and still do on a hobbyist level, the DRL is the first professional league of its kind aiming to make the sport mainstream through captivating and immersive streaming events and eventually morphing into a fully fledged spectator sport much like baseball or football, the difference being however, that the pitch or race track is not confined to the strict outlines within the stadium, but due to the inherent design of the little drones – they can fly into hallways, garages, and into all sort of complex 3D structures.
To get a better idea of what an actual race is, the DRL league has held a pre-season race at an abandoned power station in New Jersey back in July last year. You can see the carnage of some crashes (I’d say a rather frequent occurrence in these type of events, much to joy of cheering would-be crowds, once they start filling stadiums according to plans) and FVP race footage from the drones below.
Full Course 3D Simulation:
Drone pilots wear FPV VR glasses through which they receive flight streaming video, which the organisers of the league aim to bring to a streaming audience, capable of following the race from the POV of a drone pilot via their smart phone/tablet or any other smart device.
The league and sport itself are in their infancy, but it does have a huge potential for success given the immense popularity of drones overall. When it comes to the drones the pilot would be racing – they are custom design quad copters with a POV camera in front called the DRL Racer2. These little beasts are pretty fast – capable of speeds of up to 120mph.
Images by DRL
Sadly at this stage the transmission of video from the drone to the pilot is still rather poor quality in the realm of grainy SD, but it is likely to be upped to HD soon, pending they solve the lag issues, which are a big no-no in the racing world. This technology may be in its very early stages, and at this point its safe to say you won’t be seeing Drone Racing in 4K in the near future, but it is quite fascinating.