Drones are being employed for many purposes. Photography and business seem to be the two most popular uses for drones. Amazon is already planning to use drones to cut down on previously lengthy shipping times, and both consumers and businesses are also using drones in aerial photography. In addition, drones are being employed in industries such as agriculture to monitor crops, which could help developing countries in regards to food supplies. It comes as no surprise that drone enthusiasts would also use drones for competitive racing.
Drone racing is more than who crosses the finish line first. It also includes some tricks, similar to plane racing in the early days of aviation. “You flip upside down and then rotate,” said Steele Davis, a 25-year-old drone racer from Atlanta, Georgia. “So you’re inverted, but you’re being forced toward the ground because the props are still spinning.”
Drones are raced from a first person view. The pilots wear goggles that allow them to have a drone’s aerial view streamed from cameras, which allows the pilot to have the feel of being inside the drone itself. These visors are similar to headsets such as Oculus Rift, Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens, and it’s possible that these headsets could be used in drone racing in the future.
One of the first drone races was organized by French model aircraft association Airgonay, and drone racing quickly took off after videos were posted to YouTube and other video hosting sites. The U.S. National Drone Racing Championships is considered the first organized, large-scale drone racing competition. Over the last summer, 120 pilots from across the globe competed at the California State Fair for the fastest time in five laps and $25,000 in prizes. There was even a special freestyle session where pilots were judged on their creativity with drone maneuvers.
Australian Chad Nowak won the competition, with Davis taking second. “Everybody was racing in different countries, but this was the first official international one that put it on the map,” said Scot Refsland, CEO of RotoSports, the company that organized the event. Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada have also hosted their own drone racing events as well.
RotorSports is planning another drone racing world championship, DroneWorlds, in Hawaii from October 17-22, 2016. It has been reported that more than 300 pilots from at least 35 countries will compete for $200,000 in prize money. “With the drone nationals, the drone world championships and little events everywhere popping up, it’s becoming a very competitive sport,” said Swiss pilot Raphael “Trappy” Pirker, who is noted for his ability to perform aerial tricks with drones. “There’s an opportunity for people to turn a hobby into a business and fly professionally.”
With drones becoming one of the most popular gadgets in the world and sought after by both consumers and businesses, there could also be the possibility of company-sponsored drone racers, similar to the system NASCAR uses. This would be a huge step in drone racing becoming an actual recognized sport.