Since global quarantine measures began in the spring of 2020, many events have been canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of the biggest upsets has been the cancellation of sporting events. During times of stress, people look forward to cheering on their favorite teams, being entertained by the excitement brought on by the competition. As safety protocols have been introduced sporting events are slowly resuming. But to keep everyone safe, games are being played with limited fans in attendance if any at all. One sport that has found a way around this, while rapidly gaining in popularity, is the sport of drone racing.
In drone racing small FPV (First Person View) drones are flown through complex obstacle courses. When drone pilots first began racing drones, these obstacle courses would be set up through forests, empty buildings, and parking lots. Courses were marked out with flags, ropes, and PVC structures. Today, the sport has a professional league that holds races in sophisticated arenas. The Drone Racing League (DRL) was founded in 2015 and holds competitions between professional pilots all over the world. The drones have to race through many tricks along a course with flashing fluorescent lights at extreme speeds.
The DRL season hosts seven matches held in cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, Munich, Germany, and Nice, France. The pilots compete through 16 different levels, each increasing in difficulty. Scores are awarded at the end of each level, and the pilot with the highest scores accumulated walks away with $1 million and plenty of sponsors. At its core, the DRL says that it is primarily a technology company that uses competition to encourage the advancement of drone technology. This includes developing their own line of racing drones, the Racer4 and RacerX.
To further the progression of drone capabilities, the DRL recently introduced the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit. Student teams from universities around the world were invited to design systems that would allow drones to navigate the complex DRL courses through complete autonomy. Using AI, the drones would need to sense and avoid any obstacles all while flying at speeds of up to 90mph. The challenge has been a huge success both in advancing drone AI systems and entertaining audiences tuning in to watch from home. The drone races have been described as a cross between a NASCAR race and a scene straight out of Star Wars.
In response to Covid-19, the DRL was in a unique position that it found a way to carry out all matches without delay by incorporating virtual races. While other sports leagues need to be played on the court, field, or pitch, FPV drone racing can be easily transitioned into a virtual simulator made possible by the gaming systems STEAM and XBOX. As explained on DRL’s website, “Top pilots navigate virtual versions of custom, high-speed DRL Racer4 drones, flying through complex, neon-bright courses –all from home, spanning the globe. The track may be virtual, but physics, the controller movements, and racing are real.”
In October of 2020, the DRL announced a new partnership with Genius Sports Group to bring the excitement of drone racing to a new level for fans. Founded in 2016, Genius Sports has become the go-to company for compiling data and statistics to unlock the true potential of sports betting. DRL and Genius have entered into a multi year deal that will not only draw in more viewers but engage them in ways like never before. “Fans all over the world love the Drone Racing League — and now, through our incredible new partnership with Genius Sports, they’ll soon get to bet on it too. With our minute-long races packed with stats around speed, crashes, and competition, professional drone racing is on the fast track to be the best sport to bet on,” said DRL President Rachel Jacobson.
While other sports leagues struggle to navigate a world combating a highly contagious virus, the DRL has found a way to safely carry out its 2020 season. Now with real time stats and data available to fans, the DRL is banking on betting being able to boost their popularity. Though they don’t claim to be pushing out betting on leagues like the NFL or NBA, the DRL has filled a unique niche in the world of sports. As stated on their website, “Merging the digital with the real, DRL delivers innovative drone technology, immersive content, and visually thrilling races on the best sports networks around the world.”