Drone racing. It could be coming to an arena near you.
It's gaining popularity incredibly fast – the Aerial Sports League has been around since 2011, the Drone Racing League (DRL) has been in business since 2015, and ESPN even broadcast the 2016 DRL Nationals last year.
If you don't know how it all works yet, drones fly around an arena at breakneck speeds, controlled by “pilots.” The pilots get a first-person-view from the drone streamed into a pair of goggles they wear, letting them control the craft as if they were actually flying in a cockpit.
It's a pretty incredible sight, because these drones can sometimes exceed speeds of 120mph. But they don't often reach those speeds, because they're usually too busy banking, diving, and spinning through the amazing courses designed to test the skill and endurance of the pilots.
Zooming Through a Futuristic Drone Racing Arena
Some drone racing arenas are fantastic. The courses are three dimensional (because drones can fly up and down) and full of psychedelic neon lights, shapes, and obstacles. They often take place in sports stadiums, though they can also be found in underground caverns, and, more frequently, in dedicated arenas of their own.
Other times the races take place in simpler settings, without a full-blown pre-staged arena. You can host a drone race in a field, a construction site, a garage – anywhere you have enough room (as long as you steer clear of unaware bystanders).
For most people drone racing is still a hobby, rather than a money-making opportunity. But that's set to change soon. Allianz, a major name in broadcasting involved in Formula 1 racing and many other sports, will be sponsoring the DRL 2017 championship. Drone racing could well become one of the most popular sports in the world, potentially beginning to rival the fame of eSports.
Eventually, drone racing broadcasts could include a set of goggles for the viewer, letting you see the race from the perspective of the drones themselves. The sport would become even more exciting, giving fans a way to experience the race in totally new ways.
While there isn't a lot of money in drones for the average enthusiast right now, there are still some large cash prizes to be won at some of these tournaments. If you want to see what a full-fledged championship drone race looks like, check out the final race of the World Drone Prix 2016, held in Dubai. The $250,000 first prize was won by 15-year-old Luke Bannister, beating out 150 other teams.
An Expanding New Realm of Sport
The world of drone sports has even more to offer. It's not just racing, there are also – drone fights!
You might already know about the robot battles that have been taking place for a while. But drones are getting in on the action too, and actually have been for quite a few years now.
The Aerial Sports League even has a “drone combat” category, which features drones bashing into each other until only one is left flying. There are one-on-one fights, and also big battle royales which involve many drones competing in the same arena in the aptly-named “Game of Drones.”
It isn't the most exciting sport to watch yet, but if you imagine what might come as people experiment and innovate, this could turn into a very cool sport (maybe we'll see drones with paintball guns attached, or electric zappers?).
It sounds like a very expensive way to have fun – purposefully breaking costly aircraft – but these drones are built for battle, and the damage is usually to the cheap rotors which can be quickly replaced.
It's a good time to be a drone enthusiast. If you want to get in on the racing action but you don't have a drone yourself, you can try out the free DRL Racing Simulator. You can race your friends through real courses, and participate in global competitions.
As fun as drones can be, they're even more valuable when it comes to business and commercial purposes. We think they could help out big time in the $100,000 Land Survey Automation Challenge, a global competition to create a more efficient way to conduct property surveys. Drones can be programmed to conduct these surveys, saving an incredible amount of time, money, and labor.
The winners of the Concept Phase of the challenge will be announced soon, so be sure to keep an eye on the challenge for upcoming developments!