Drone racing is serious business. So serious that there’s now an official racing league. The Drone Racing League (DRL) isn’t the first of its kind, but it is serious about turning the art of drone racing into a legitimate sport.
Most people think of drones as an expensive way to shoot aerial video, but not as performance vehicles. With speeds of up to 120 miles per hour, these modified drones are nothing to laugh at and are designed completely differently than its camera-carrying counterparts.
DRL will be holding an actual racing series beginning on February 22nd of this year launching the 2016 season. The race season will last six races, after which a world champion will be crowned. DRL is creating a hybrid indoor-outdoor “track” for its drone pilots to navigate.
Drone Racing League CEO, Nicholas Horbaczewski, hopes to emulate the sudden success of video game eSports. Speaking with TIME, Horbaczewski said, “We look at what eSports is doing and say, you know, there’s a lot of different ways this could evolve, there’s a lot of different business models for this.” With eSports generating over 747 million in revenue last year, it’s a market that’s hard to ignore.
While niche, drone racing is inherently compelling. Using VR goggles to see from the perspective of their drones, racers will be pushed to navigate tight courses without the full peripheral vision of normal sight.
Like NASCAR, there will be a lot of crashing, especially since there’s no risk of death from crashing a drone. Pilots will try more daring maneuvers because of this, and DRL hopes this will make drone racing an exciting spectator sport.
Spectators have the option of watching the drones race in the third person perspective from their seats, as each drone is lit brightly by 100 colored LEDs. But the more compelling option is to watch from the first person perspective of the drone pilots.
To keep things fair, DRL builds and maintains all of the drones used in competition. Racers will simply have to show up and fly, without worrying about damaging and repairing their own drones. If a pilot crashes, there will be dedicated DRL pit crews that handle the repairs to keep the action going.
With VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launching this year, it seems like the perfect time for VR-based drone racing to take off.