How to get into drone racing

If you’ve ever dreamed of flying around at high speed, dodging obstacles and vying with other competitors, like the character of the young Anakin Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie – your dream is continually edging closer to becoming reality.

Drones have only been mass marketed in recent years, yet it was always inevitable that they would end up being used for racing. The most recent development see drones screaming around 3D racetracks, weaving around, ducking and diving at speeds of over 70mph. Spectators can keep a handle on the action thanks to high resolution cameras which relay the action from around the course, including slow-motion replays of drones jostling for position, overtaking each other and, of course, crashing and burning. To make it even easier, the surface area of the drones are covered with colored LED lights, and some are beginning to carry the logos of sponsors.

Pilots control their drones remotely, but the complexity of the action means they need to wear goggles with video relayed in real time from on-board the drone, giving the sensation that they are actually sitting in the drone itself, just like the aspiring Jedi Knight-cum-Sith Lord (for those who are not really familiar with Star Wars – Anakin Skywalker later became Darth Vader, the lead villain of the Star Wars saga. If you haven’t heard of Darth Vader, well – he was pretty good at reading thoughts, ruling the universe and… flying drones).

Drone racing is definitely an up-and-coming sport, with a growing online fan base. There are a number of competing leagues and competitions that are springing up around the world, most notably the Drone Racing League (DRL) – the first professional league based out of Miami and backed by the people behind the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise. DRL sees itself as something like the new Nascar or Formula One of drone racing – in which teams of engineers and mechanics design, create and tweak high performance drones, piloted by professional racers, backed by big corporate sponsors and broadcast to millions around the world. All of this is falling into place – we can expect the first live TV broadcasts of DRL drone racing on ESPN this fall.

As the whole sport is still in its infancy, it’s a great time for enthusiasts to get more involved. Pilots, designers and engineers are all going to be in big demand once the sport starts bringing in serious money. For youngsters especially, it’s a great chance to bring engineering and physics to life in a way that other pursuits just can’t. The typical ‘motorhead’ teenage kids, who spend their weekends tweaking their car engines, had to wait until they were old enough to drive, then save up a lot of money to get their hobby going. Getting into drone racing can be much more financially accessible.

For complete beginners, it’s worthwhile purchasing a drone off of the store shelf, or from a site like RotorCopters, where you can browse through different models. Learn how to fly, how to improve the drone’s performance by tweaking it, changing around the motor, battery and the body. Kit it out with different sensors and cameras and just try to get a good overall feel of what the potential is for your personal development. Whether you’re interested in physics, mechanics, engineering, electronics, photography or another field, drone racing is a great way to explore new developments.

Unless you live in a very isolated area, you’ll be able to join, or form, a local drone enthusiasts club. Here you can exchange tips, knowledge, expertise and ideas about all aspects of drone racing. If you can get a local league of around a dozen racers going, you’re sure to attract interest from local sponsors and local media, all of which helps to cover the expenses involved. You may even decide to get a professional outfit together and put forward a drone and a pilot for a professional league. At this stage in the sport’s development, there are opportunities for everyone with an ounce of talent or a heart full of enthusiasm.

A decade or so from now, we’ll see the top drone pilots making the same kind of money as Formula One and Nascar stars do now. There’s no better time to become a part of it.