Remember that scene in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, when they raced through the Forest Moon of Endor? Hasn’t a part of you always wished that you could throw on some camouflaged forest gear, strap on a helmet and hop onto a speeder bike in order to live out your wildest Jedi dreams? Well, now you can, with first-person drone-view racing! These large-scale, first-person video drones are incredibly fast, and while you’re less Luke Skywalker and more little kid with a high-powered toy, racing them still looks amazingly fun.
The potential audience for drone racing is limitless: everyone from speed demons to sci-fi fans to little kids could find something to love. Drone pilots have likened first-person drone-view racing to an “out-of-body experience,” seeing the race from the vantage point of the drone itself and feeling all the thrill that comes with that. With live streaming, everyone from the pilots to the spectators can feel like they’re racing as a drone in these high-octane races, with absolutely no risk to human safety (though, not so much for your pricey drone if you aren’t careful).
So, what all does it take to take part in this sport? Not only do you need the drone itself, but you need the accessories that go along with it: a lightweight, high-res camera so you can move around objects at high speeds, a wireless transmitter so the live video can be transmitted to you and a headset to watch the streaming video. All in all, a customizable drone would probably cost you around $1200, though more toy-like drones (like the Parrot AR), retail for approximately $600.
Even if you’ve got all the equipment, organizing a drone race can prove difficult. Federal regulations state that drones cannot leave a pilot’s sight. The solution to this is that every pilot has a spotter, watching the drone as it’s raced, making sure it stays the course. Also, to comply with federal regulations, no cash prices can be offered for drone races in order to circumvent the government classifying them as commercial. However, races can offer and reward winners with free drone sundries and equipment.
Drone racing is about to officially take off, thanks to a recent ESPN deal with the International Drone Racing Association that established a multi-year distribution deal for the broadcaster to be the first to air live drone races. The US National Drone Racing Championships will be broadcast live on ESPN3 for the first time this August. Some speculate that this is ESPN’s way of reaching out to the younger viewers whose interests are expanding beyond traditional sports, and it seems to be a smart move – drone racing videos have cracked the 1.5 million viewing mark on YouTube. The sport is growing astronomically, and if one day drone racing resembles something like riding an X-Wing Starfighter, then may the force be with it.