Competitive drone racing. It’s a thing. And you may just watch it on TV some day.
As I write this at 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, more than 108,000 people are watching other people play the video game League of Legends. And nearly 90,000 people are watching other gamers play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 (circa 1994). These are sports where athletes use joysticks and controllers matched with lightning-quick reflexes and brains steeped in puzzles to dominate the competition.
So in a world where more people tune in to watch live video gaming than the our beloved award shows (sorry Grammy Awards and your paltry 30 million viewers), it’s been fun to see competitive events continue to mirror our society’s growing love of technology.
Even if they are niche, the competitive tech gaming/robot/drone niche is growing. Geek culture is mainstreaming like never before. For example, the BattleBots season finale this week pulled 4 million viewers who tuned in to watch robots pulverize each other.
Drones are increasing in popularity, accessibility and therefore, it’s time to race them!
According to the latest research, 2015 is a defining year for drone adoption — with revenue expected to approach $105 million this year and unit sales to approach 700,000.
These things are everywhere. And like anything that goes fast and can be raced, people are racing them.
Two weeks ago, the inaugural US national drone racing championship was held in Sacremento, CA and featured 100+ competitors from around the world (an Australian won it).
According to Quartz:
More than 100 racers took part in the first day of a two-day event, based on small, custom-built drones in what is called first-person view (FPV) racing. The drones have cameras attached to them and broadcast video feeds back to specially-designed goggles that allow the pilots to see as the drones see.
The pace of the races—the drones are fast and nimble, and can hit speeds nearing 70 mph—have led to comparisons with pod racing and speeder bike chases in Star Wars:
The drone racing courses look a lot like a dog agility course you may have seen on ESPN on an early Saturday morning.
They had some early sponsors (GoPro makes perfect sense) and national news coverage here in the first year.
Like Monster Jam monster truck racing — which is also a sport, depending on who you ask — competitive drone racing has time trials and freestyle competitions. And according to reports, the freestyle portions were “riddled with technical glitches. Some racers struggled to get their drones into the air; others weren’t able to get reliable video footage back to their goggles.”
But hey, it’s year one. And drones are an early technology and just starting to reach a level of affordability, accessibility and popularity for this growing sport. I’m excited to see what’s next.