VR Drone Racing: The Next Frontier in Competitive Racing

By now I’m sure you’ve probably heard of, or seen, people flying drones around for various reasons. Some people use them to get unique perspectives for videos, some fly them for fun, even amazon is starting to use them for deliveries; but the coolest use for them by far is in racing them using Virtual Reality.

The way it works is that the person flying the drone, referred to as the pilot, uses a VR headset which is synced up to a camera on the drone; when you use it, it creates the experience of you flying through the air at 70 miles per hour. Drone pilots from all over are getting together to race in this new and exciting way through crazy courses, all as a new form of sport; in fact just last year the Drone Racing League was formed, and recently secured over $8 million in funding. 

Here is an example of what flying a drone in VR looks like:

Pretty unbelievable, and it’s beginning to gain a lot of momentum as a legitimate sport; in fact, in April ESPN broadcasted a DRL three day racing event in New York. The Drone Racing League, DRL, operates in a similar fashion to NASCAR or Formula One, wherein they have sponsored competitors as well as regulations for drones. In fact the DRL actually supplies all participants with a drone which they have made and maintain; this is in order to insure that all the drones are essentially equal, in the same way the NASCAR and Formula One have strict regulations on cars which compete.

This form of racing is unique in its advantages and its disadvantages. One such advantage is that this sport is not as expensive as traditional racing to enter; according to veterans of drone racing you can get everything you need for around $1000, a fraction of the price of a stock car. One unique aspect of this sport is the viewership, the DRL has record numbers of people watching some of the first person videos from their races; however attendance to the in person events is usually pretty low. It’s an interesting trend to see the comradery go out of sports in this case, fans are more than willing to tune in but the need to be there in person seems to have vanished here. Another advantage of this type of driverless racing is that the pilots are free to be more daring with their maneuvers, worst case scenario a drone worth a few hundred dollars crashes and no one is injured in the process; the same cannot be said for the famous NASCAR crashes we all pray for during a race.

With all new technology comes bugs and kinks which need to be worked out; and racing drones is certainly no exception. The remotes controlling the drones each have a radio frequency, and then you have the camera on the drone trying to get real time video back to the headset; and combine that with 7 other racers and you have a recipe for disaster. Some of the races held by the DRL have seen technical issues ranging from video delay causing pilots to crash, to drones not event taking off and everything in between. The DRL compensates for this by having their races in heats, where you have a few chances to race a course per round and only your best time counts. Another potential drawback to this sport is that the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, is still trying to regulate the use of personal drones; and their decision one way or the other could have major implications on the sport. 

Despite the kinks and pending regulation, at the end of the day this is a novel concept which seems like a lot of fun and is an innovative way to bring about the next generation of competition. As technology continues to evolve people will evolve with it; which means there will be changes to science, entertainment and even competition. The Drone Racing League is constantly continuing to grow, and it probably won’t be long until the technology is perfected and VR drone racing is sweeping the nation as the next big thing.

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