As many now know, quadcopter technology has come a long way in the recent years. Drones are now used in photography and videography, in research, and for pure recreation, to name a few areas. They are also on the verge of becoming useful in deliveries, with Amazon Prime and Wing Aviation, among others, getting FAA approval for drone delivery services. They are even used in professional sports, with the Dallas Cowboys reportedly having used UAVs to film their practice sessions.

Perhaps most notable of all though, is drones’ usage in the formation of an entirely new kind of sport: drone racing.

A DRL (Drone Racing League) Indoor Racing Course. Photo credit: Red Bull.

This action sport is, as its name suggests, a race of drones, and can be as exciting as any other established racing sport. In these races, human-piloted drones maneuver through what are essentially obstacle courses at speeds reaching 90 miles per hour. Pilots control their vehicles via mounted cameras and either virtual reality goggles or controller-based screens that show the vehicle’s point of view. Once a sort of fledgling pseudo-sport, this activity went professional with the formation of the Drone Racing League, which has already secured broadcast deals with ESPN, Sky Sports, Fox Sports Asia, and Disney Channel XD.

Thomas Bitmatta, an 18-year-old drone racing pilot from Melbourne. Bittama is the winner of the MultiGP International Open in the US in 2017.

Business was booming for drone racing leaders as early as 2017, with the aforementioned DRL securing almost $32 million through fundraising and sponsorships. Its main competitor, DR1 Racing, was doing well for a time, too, landing DHL and Mountain Dew as sponsors. And as the sport grows, it only stands to reason that more big-name brands will attach themselves to it, ultimately pouring more money into drone racing. Already, the bigger competitions pay anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 in prize money. Additionally, some online sites are already offering betting on drone racing. The availability of real-money fantasy sports, particularly in the U.S. (which comprises a decent-sized portion of the drone racing market) should also make for a fascinating DRL development down the line.

An image from the first drone racing event streamed by ESPN in 2016.

The advent of drone racing illustrates the massive and rapid growth of quadcopter technology. Given how quickly drones have been integrated into both industry and even sports, it was only a matter of time before companies began realizing the potential for larger, passenger-carrying vehicles. In a way, the urban air mobility market now emerging was grown from the now thriving drone market.

As the drone racing’s profile increases and the money starts flowing in, we can expect drone racers to look for more ways to get a competitive edge. Just as smaller drones enabled the vision for UAM, advancements in drone racing technology could translate into insights for larger vehicles. For example, EHang, originally a recreational drone maker, now is developing the EHang 184 air taxi.

EHang’s orginal UAV “Ghost Drone” (left) compared to the EHang 184 Air Taxi (right)

Why it’s important: The growth of drone racing the past few years illustrates just how much and how quickly the quadcopter industry has grown since its inception. With millions of dollars now pouring into drone racing, it’s important to recall that UAM technology grew from smaller quadcopters, and that advancements in areas like drone racing could mean advancements for UAM as well.

Posted by Naish Gaubatz

One Comment

  1. Drone Champions League is the biggest racing league with Red Bull, Breitling, McDonalds, Seat and Trilux as partners.


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