You know the universal appeal of drones when you’re watching drone racing using your phone, computer, or even – a virtual reality headset. Drones have steadily taken over much of 2014-2015, and now 2016, with the nascent, yet explosive the Drone Racing League by Nick Horbaczewski. The jump-around energy of the DRL is set around the idea of becoming a digital Nascar for drones.
In the past few months, drone racing has been continually successful in becoming a triple threat to the entertainment that typically involves high-tech paraphernalia. A few months ago, Fat Shark, a virtual-reality headset maker, sponsored a drone racing event at the California State Fair that saw a few hundred drone racers. Then, there’s the International Drone Racing Association, based in Michigan, dedicated to raising awareness of the nascent sport and setting up drone racing competitions.
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Drone racing is slowly turning into a superstar of the e-sports world, where fans watch their favorite sport online and in stadiums. According to SuperData Research, the e-sport industry generates about $750 million annually, mainly from sponsorships and advertising. Live streaming platforms such as Twitch, which streams gamers playing on such sites generated more than $3.8 billion in 2015. The number, though not incredible, so tell drone racing enthusiasts to not veer off the path.
“It has all the heritage of racing, but it’s in three dimensions. Whenever I talk about drone racing, people mention the pod-racing scene in Star Wars. Or the speeder bikes on Endor,” said Nick Horbaczewski CEO of DRL during an interview with WIRED. “And most of that was CGI, so we have to bridge the reality of racing with peoples’ sci-fi movie expectations. And I think we can do that. That’s what we’re working on with our content, “flying robots” with cameras on them.”
DRL has six races planned for 2016 across the United States. The league hosted the first race at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami in December. A video of drones weaving through the tunnels of the stadium from various perspectives using drone-mounted cameras. A video production team will soon turn it into professional quality entertainment video to be shown online in April 2016. The DRL wants to create content that evokes a unique augmented reality experience, where the viewer can watch as if they’re sitting in a drone’s cockpit. Presently, the Drone Racing League is inking deals with distributors to get videos from each racing event garner more attention.
The DRL features custom-build drones for use in its race, thus standardizing the equipment and cutting down costs for pilots. This would help them worry only about maneuvering the drones. But, at some point you start to question it. How much does it really cost? Well, each drone costs a few hundred dollars to assemble. Drone racers typically fly quadcopters. The controller has two joysticks.
The custom-built drones zoom around at speeds up to 90mph, tailgating one another in midair, avoiding barriers, weaving through tunnels and gates. Each race course is so complex that the biggest problem, although is capturing every inch of the event. As a matter of fact, the pilots themselves are having a difficult time navigating the drones using the two joysticks and any without additional high-tech gear. Pilots wear a pair of VR goggles, one that receives a feed from the camera mounted on their drone. Moreover, keeping a live-feed from the camera without any lag, especially when the drone is averting barriers and other walls is a bit troublesome issue. The first-person feed is also recorded and used a raw material to create footage produced by the DRL.
The race courses are filled up with HD cameras, filming drones as they zoo by. There’s also a slew of installed smoke machines to give a more dramatic effect. The pilots sit near the sidelines, with their drones starting from a pad that is a few meters above their heads. They have to maneuver through the twists and tunnels to get back to the stadium into the (a green-lit box), where the first one to arrive is declared the winner.
To score the highest point, a drone racer needs to pass through two checkpoints and cross the finish line in less than 2 minutes. The faster a drone flies, the more the points. Additional 10 points are awarded for every second under the two-minute time cap. The DRL scoring system also awards each racer 50 points for each checkpoint the drone passes.
The event is graced by a dozen pilots from all over the United States, and a few other countries including Australia and Brazil.
The second race will take place on March 9, 2016, at the Hawthorne Mall in Los Angeles.
The Drone Racing League has bagged more than $8 million in investor funding, from the bigshots including CAA Ventures, Courtside Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Lux Capita, RSE Ventures, Allen Debevoise (founder of Machinima), Grant Gittlin (CXO of Medialink), Gary Vaynerchuck with Vayner/RSE, and Strauss Zelnick (CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software).
Is there more to it? Yeah, absolutely!
A new video was launched on March 2, 2016, to promote the first edition of the World Drone Prix. The video shows a McLaren racing through the streets of Dubai, captured by his Highness Sheikh Hamdan. The Dubai finale takes place on March 10-12, 2016.