Pocalypse ," complete with a torched "Hollywood" sign. They were intrigued to hear of another device that could allow them to capture cool aerial footage, but they were really hooked once they could saw how fun it was to zip and zag the drones through the air. The network will also televise a one-hour program dedicated to each event.
He won the U. Drone Racing League Drone racing grew out of a convergence of several improving technologies: tracking equipment from smartphones, better virtual reality systems, the miniaturization of cameras and batteries.
Those advances brought the price of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles down to an affordable point.
According to Dronelife. The rapid growth has spawned a gaggle of competing leagues and formats. There appear to be plenty of investors for electronic sports, a euphemism for competitive video gaming, which in just a few years went from nerdy niche to global phenomenon. In addition to DRL, there are at least three other large U.
The Drone Sports Association sponsored its own U. The Aerial Sport League plans to open its Tron-inspired Drone Sports World entertainment complex in San Francisco, featuring instruction, races, drone combat, and a store.
The International Drone Racing Association promotes drone racing worldwide. Most pilots compete in several leagues.
McIntyre, 30, started in local races about 18 months ago, won a few, went to the first drone nationals, then became involved with DRL and eventually quit his day job working at a department store to race and train full time.
When we released other content clips and highlights The winner of the U. The leagues are experimenting with various ways to fund the sport: MultiGP relies upon sponsorships from the U. Air Force and manufacturers of drones and FPV goggles. DRL says it will release nearly 10 hours of programming before the end of , and much more in The drones are put on pedestals Drone Racing League The drones leap off the pedestals in a blaze of light.
Note the mannequins in the background, used to create a futuristic setting. Fog machines exhale on the course, and neon accentuates many of the check gates. All this has been set up in the main building of Bell Labs, a legendary research campus in the middle of central New Jersey.
The building, about eight stories high, houses a giant core atrium. If laid on its side, the Empire State Building could fit in this interior space. Most pilots I spoke with were sucked into drone racing after viewing a YouTube video of a race through a French forest, which evokes the speeder bike chase in the forest in Return of the Jedi.
Between heats at the DRL event, pilots huddle around laptops with friends, sponsors, and coaches on man-cave leather couches, deconstructing videos of the latest heat, or the latest drone sensation on YouTube.
Guys—virtually no women are here—high-five, sip bottled water, and laugh. Even with big money at stake, the competitors seem at ease giving one another tips and advice. Most drone racing pilots seem unusually cooperative and willing to help out the newbies.
They practice together in their one-acre yard, or zip their drones around the cliffs and peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The Goblet of Shame, for broken equipment. Crashes are frequent—drones clip the edge of an obstacle or slam into one another. Most race quadcopters, but some race drones with three or more rarely six rotors.
In some races, the drones would be dangerous if you got in their way; an Australian group just claimed that their pound, five-foot-wide racing drone bested mph. Others are small enough to fit in your palm and safe enough to buzz around a bar. DRL differs from most other leagues in that all pilots at its events use proprietary DRL quad drones.
Just before one of the heats, a DRL exec takes me back into the pit behind the race officials and the pilot stands. Dozens upon dozens of DRL drone bodies have been laid out in ranks on several tables: each an LED-bedazzled black carbon-plastic brick housing a battery and four arms extending from the corners for the rotors.
A few engineers are repairing drones that crashed in the last race.
Others are sifting through piles of rotors; still more people are getting drones ready for the next race. With all pilots racing with the same type of drone, the competition focuses on piloting skills alone.
MultiGP Drone Racing allows pilots to race their own modified drones through a course. Safety is a top concern; rotors can slice quickly and some pilots even carry QuikClot, a coagulation agent, in their backpacks. Behind us sit the pilots, the pit, and race officials.
In front of us, the Atom has been suspended a couple stories up. We lean on the barriers and watch a couple heats.
The pilots have to let their drones fall through the top of the Atom cube, flip, then punch the speed to get out of the bottom, while also managing to avoid slamming into the atrium floor.
Even to the uninitiated, it looks difficult. Damn near impossible, really. Races are won by savvy piloting, not technical innovations.
No one dies. Pilots hold a thick control console and manipulate two small joysticks. The left stick controls throttle and yaw; the right controls pitch and roll.
When flying down a straightaway, they fly at a backslash angle, as the back rotors push the drone along. They could be Zen monks, but instead of meditation cushions they have funny goggles. Their only perceptible movement is in their thumbs, twitching ever so slightly.
As at the top levels of so many sports, it really comes down to psychology, the ability to perform under pressure.