Imagine flying around a football stadium, navigating tight turns at 70 miles per hour, speeding past opponents, and maybe even crashing into a million pieces. Drone racing is a real thing with real money attached to it, and the newly minted Drone Racing League aims to be something of a NASCAR for the 21st century; racers compete on unlikely three-dimensional courses instead of running laps around a loop.
The inaugural DRL race event was recently held at an emptied-out Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is an investor in the league, as is New York City’s Lerer Hippeau Ventures.) Drones equipped with bright neon lights flitted around a course that took them from the open air of the vacated stadium to its narrow hallways, and back out again. The group had to navigate through a series of gates, in competition with the clock and other racers.
Previous drone racing events have not yet gotten the traction that DRL founder Nicholas Horbaczewski seems to have found. Coming from a strong video production background, he posits that the best way for people to enjoy the racing action is not to sit in physical attendance of the event, but to instead tune in to the live feed of what the racers see.
The DRL is a unique merging of the real and the virtual, with first-person cameras mounted on drones treating the viewing audience (and the stalwart drone pilots) to an impressive high-speed sight that immediately calls to mind Star Wars–style pod racing. And because they are drones, there’s no danger or mortality attached to it. Just as Twitch video game streamers are becoming celebrities on the level of conventional athletes, the vision is that drone pilots will soon be hailed as superstars in their own right.
Is it cool? Absolutely. Having a pilot’s-eye-view on a tiny, high-speed drone takes gaming to another level. It remains to be seen if it will break through to mainstream appeal, but it shouldn’t take too long for the rest of the world to notice how much fun it is to watch.