The Drone Racing League is searching for the world’s best quadcopter pilot.
With drones getting better and faster, it’s hardly surprising that people want to race them. It’s why the Drone Racing League exists, a six-race championship that challenges the world’s best quadcopter pilots to hurtle around neon-lit, 3D courses at whiplash-inducing speeds.
Think Mario Kart meets a Red Bull Air Race or Wipeout meets Flappy Bird. Ultimately, drone racing is similar to a real-life, first-person view (FPV) video game with virtual reality (VR) headsets and customized drones built for speed, agility and high-performance aerial trickery.
“The pilots have goggles that they wear,” explained DRL founder and CEO Nick Horbaczewski. “They get a video feed off the drone. It lets them see what the drone sees as though they are sitting in the cockpit. And then they compete in these exciting high-speed races.”
Each racer pilots a 255mm, 800g DRL Racer2 drone, a custom-built quadcopter with a carbon fiber frame and an integrated HD camera. These drones are fast and maneuverable, capable of hitting speeds up to 80 mph. With 100 ultra-bright, colored LEDs affixed to each side, it’s easy to tell the different pilots apart, both at distance and at speed.
“We design and build all of our drones in-house,” says Horbaczewski, “and we’ve developed proprietary radio frequency technology to support the infrastructure of racing.”
This RF technology allows the Racer2 UAVs to speed through twisty-turny race courses in abandoned buildings (like an old power station in New York) or around major landmarks.
Unlike most races, the courses have 3D elements to them, so there are dizzying ups and downs, as well as traditional left and right turns. As the videos showcase, the LED-lit drones speed down neon-framed corridors, zip through open windows and bank crazily to avoid huge concrete pillars.
Or not avoiding them. The DRL has its fair share of spectacular crashes, but each pilot has a number of replacement drones they can use if their reflexes aren’t up to scratch.
Besides, nothing rides on a single race. Pilots compete in multiple heats, scoring points by passing checkpoints and finishing the course within a certain time limit. The pilot with the most points at the end of the heats is the overall winner.
With 17 pilots registered to compete in the inaugural race in February, the Drone Racing League hopes to riff on the popularity currently enjoyed by eSports games like Hearthstone and League of Legends.
Only time will tell if this futuristic sport catches on, but in the meantime, potential pilots can follow the fortunes of UMMAGAWD, Legacy, Mr. Steele, Zoomas and the other rookie DRL racers at thedroneracingleague.com.