Why drone racing matters

There were always shortcuts to technology. A lone inventor, or even a team of aspiring scientists is scarcely able to progress at a desired pace, due to the lack of resources. Although significant, money is not the only element that can speed up research. Time, number of scientists, technology, outreach to international community, attention of general public, and many other factors have a serious impact on the evolution of innovation. For many years, the most used shortcut was to connect the research with a branch of military. There is however another, more peaceful solution.

Together with technology, sports have also evolved. There are whole cultures created around them, but besides this, they gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry. Even traditional sports like soccer, football and hockey have managed to impact innovation outside of the sport itself. If not in other instances, then at least in construction of massive stadiums, and improved live broadcasts. But when it gets to sports directly connected to technology, the impact has been recognized and tangible. Motorsport is the most reputable example.

Evolution of headlights at the 24 hours of Le Mans; Left- Halogen headlights on a Ferrari in 1962, Center- Xenon headlights on a Peugeot in 1992, Right- LED headlights introduced by Audi in 2011, Image source: 24h-lemans.com

The technology tested at various races made a quick transition into mass production. The spectator element of these sports brought funding, interest of the researchers and it formed an international community, which boosted cooperation, but also competition. Due to the popularity of the sport, more young researchers are attracted to the field. Another benefit is that the spectator gets familiar with the technology, and is then more informed about its benefits. Subsequently, a demand for the innovation is created.

Little over a month ago, there was the first World Drone Prix in Dubai. All together, the prizes added up to one million dollars. International Drone Racing Association (IRDA), which co-organized the event, made another big step forward two weeks ago, when it announced a partnership with ESPN about live broadcasting an event from New York this August. The primary focus may be on the digital generation, but the whole world already realized the enormous potential of drones. Creating the familiar sport-culture structure around it should not be hard, after already achieving these two breakthroughs.

“The technology Drone Racing League (DRL) has developed will bring traditional racing passion to courses that have never existed for any other sport. As viewers at home get to know us as pilots and better understand the incredible skill required to race 3D courses in speeds above 80 MPH, new groups of fans will emerge from unexpected places,” explains racing pilot, Steve Zoumas in an interview.

Currently, the racing drones are going around 80 miles per hour through a complex set of gates, testing the maneuverability to the maximum. Each pilot is wearing goggles, which display the live feed from the drone’s camera. Competition in various leagues makes innovation inevitable. We will see these drones get faster, more responsive, and easier to control. The materials are bound to get lighter. The design will have to change in order to adapt to the course and the high possibility of crashing. And if it becomes a huge sensation on screens and live, at the events, introduction of various disciplines could bring further benefits. All of this can follow the path of automotive innovations. That is why drone racing matters.