What happens when you mix a former Tough Mudder Mud Run executive with toy drones, virtual reality, and too many viewings of the speeder bike scene in “Return of the Jedi?” You get the Drone Racing League, a new startup with investors from Gary Vaynerchuk to RSE Ventures, to Muse lead singer Matthew Bellamy.
Drone racing is conceptually simple though technologically complex. Drone pilots–competing among the few hundred hobbyists who have already mastered this sport, each fly a brightly colored and illuminated quadcopter drone, mounted with a video camera. They control the drone, watching what it “sees” through virtual reality goggles as it flies through the course at up to 90 miles an hour. Pilots compete on both speed and points–you gain points by going through gates and checkpoints and lose points when you crash. Winners advance to the semi-finals and then finals. Spectators can watch the action from the pilots’ point of view on video–or VR goggles of their own.
The racing venues are where technological ingenuity comes into play. Some races are held in sports stadiums, but others are in places like abandoned subway stations or shopping malls, flying through tunnels and up stairways–the sort of thing that would normally interfere with the radio frequency signals required to pilot a drone.
Elite drone racing pilots (L-R) FlyingBear, Furadi, and RekreK.
“We developed a whole custom radio frequency infrastructure that supports racing through tunnels and complex spaces,” explains DRL founder Nick Horbaczewski, formerly a Tough Mudder senior vice president.
The League held its first official race in the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium and will air that event on February 22nd on its YouTube channel and elsewhere. Its second race is planned for March, in the abandoned Hawthorne Mall in Los Angeles. Other races will follow through the year, including a world championship.
Meantime, here’s video of DRL’s very first event: