The very first thing you notice is the incredible realness of the FPV footage. It is literally as if you are dreaming you’re flying. Add to that adrenaline — the controlled panic of travelling at the highest speed possible, the agility of turning the moment you pass a marker. It’s part exhilaration, part nausea, and a whole lot of anticipation for what DRL (Drone Racing League) will be.
The race shown in the trailer video took place at the Miami Dolphins stadium in Florida. It’s fitted with neon markers and waypoints, guiding competing drones in a course that weaves between the stadium bowl and the hallways that encircle it.
The Drone Racing League will be a global circuit of races. The locations of the racecourses are quite interesting. The season opener race will be in Miami at the Sun Life Stadium, same as the trailer. It’s happening on February 22. The second race will be in the abandoned Hawthorne mall in Los Angeles, date TBA.
What’s really interesting is that the course has some crazy 3D turns. I’m not a racing expert but I know two tight turns in a row is called a chicane and it’s a challenge to keep your speed. What do you call a chicane where you also have to turn downward too? As you can see in the footage, in the part where the drone flies into the hallway entrance it performs a pretty cool 3D turn.
There’s definitely a ton of pioneering to be done in racing tactics and knowledge.
What about the drones? The DRL is using their own standardized racing quadcopter, named the DRL Racer 2. They feature a carbon fibre frame and can go up to 80 mph. They weigh 800g and have 100 color LEDs to differentiate racers and to stand out when they’re moving fast.
The technology that makes DRL possible is their patented radio technology. It allows the drone to live steam video footage and receive input in a very large area. The areas are often complex as well, with tunnels and whatnot.
This is how the race format works in Drone Racing League. The pilots compete in multiple heats and score points by passing checkpoints and finishing within the time cap. After each race, drones are replaced with a fresh unit. The pilot with the most points total is the winner.
The interesting thing about FPV drone racing is that both the pilot and the audience are on the same level What I mean by that is that the audience has a very similar experience to the pilot. Both are seeing things from the same perspective: the drone’s.
Drone racing means having an object distinct from the human. The drone is the object performing athletic tasks,and it paradoxically brings the audience closer to the experience.
I’m sitting at my computer chair, and the drone pilot is sitting at his seat too. The object of attention is the drone itself, and all three of us engaged in the race sees it from the same perspective – first person perspective.
This is in contrast to almost all sports today in third person perspective. You watch LeBron James or Roger Federer and it’s a vicarious experience. You admire the athletes, but there’s a degree of separation between you and the spectacle. Some sports have embraced Go Pros and the first person perspective. Maybe in the future as VR technology grows in popularity it will become a standard. But today, FPV drone racing dives right into the spectacle and merges the experience.
There’s a lot to be fascinated by with drones and FPV. In the hype video when the pilot is flying FPV in a park simply for relaxation, it already looks amazing. However it might be because he did do a backflip and flew between two trees. Regardless, I’m excited for the future of FPV drones. A competitive racing league will further inspire people and expand the culture. It’s a great step forward.