Drone racing is a type of aerial race using radio-controlled quadcopters. Typically, the drones are equipped with cameras that send live video feeds back to controllers on the ground. Some drone pilots wear first-person-view glasses and are piloting their aircraft from an immersive perspective, similar to virtual reality. In competition, drones race to complete a course fastest.
Drones have been around for decades, with the military pushing their development by using them for surveillance starting early in the 20th century. The initial devices were extremely rare, heavy, and expensive. But they became cheaper and more accessible as time passed. Today they’re used for a variety of industrial and disaster relief purposes.
As a sport, drone racing began in Australia in the year 2013 when several amateur pilots organized races in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Today’s courses are designed as complex, three-dimensional tracks that can be more than a mile long. Events can be held indoors, in places like old warehouses and sports arenas, or outdoors in fields and open-air stadiums.
Several competitions are held annually around the world, some even aired by broadcasters like NBC and ESPN. The World Drone Prix launched in 2016 as a global drone racing event in Dubai with $100,000 -plus first-place prizes. The Drone Champions League, based in Europe, also launched in 2016. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the global governing body for air sports recognized by the International Olympic Committee, launched the FAI Drone Racing World Cup in 2018.
The premier FPV league in the U.S. is Drone League Racing (DRL), which has designed both its own racer drone as well as an esports-like simulator to train and recruit pilots from all over the world. Its drones can top speeds of 90 mph in very complex 3D courses. The league, which launched in 2016, most recently added the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) series. The new series for autonomous drone racing tests pilots on the strength of their AI.