Flying your drone through a complicated obstacle track such as that portrayed in the blockbuster Hollywood flick Star Wars or smashing an enemy to the ground, seems similar to science fiction! But it is really not so since these sports exist and are getting popular day by day.
These are part and parcel of the swiftly growing world of drone sports which is quite ardently following the path of the massively popular world of live video gaming known as eSports. This popularity of drone sports among the masses owes its existence to the rapid progress of technology.
Most of you would be familiar with drone racing which is an evidence of the popularity of drone sports in itself.
A good instance is the Drone Racing League (DRL). Races are convened across the world by DRL which are captured using a blend of camera drones, stationary cameras and First Person View (FPV) video. It was launched in 2015-16 and since then its races have become a sensation on video hosting platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and Facebook with more than 43 million views. DRL events have also been broadcast on television and the organization is optimistic that the upcoming season will be telecast on television in more than 75 countries across the globe.
CEO and founder of Drone Racing Leagure (DRL), Nicholas Horbaczewski believes that the astounding pace of drones whizzing through the air simply leaves the viewers spellbound.
If you are part of the live events, you can get the same view of the drones as a spectator that is being viewed by the pilot.
Each of the drones participating in drone races is loaded with a camera that transmits a real time video footage of what is being seen by the drone into the pilot’s goggles. It is as if the pilot is sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft as the drone traverses the outdoor stadiums, buildings and tents.
Chris Ballard, who is Director of Communication at Freedom Class Drones elaborates that drone racing is all about digital immersive technology as the pilot flies his machine through tricky tracks without being scared of any physical harm.
Those putting on the FPV goggles can share the pilot’s view that is similar to what was showcased in Star Wars or even experienced in a computer video game.
Drone Racing League is only one of the drone racing organizers out there.
An Australian group known as Freedom Class has gone about drone racing in a different manner.
A mighty racing drone can be defined essentially as a 1.2 meter Freedom Class V1.0, that can offer speeds in excess of 160kph. The size makes things look a lot easier when it comes to overcoming the challenges thrown up in drone races. It can be quite hard to follow the action on the ground and to figure out who is exactly leading the pack when the contestants involved are of very small size.
TV channels such as Eurosport and Discovery Channel are telecasting races held by DR1 Racing. MultiGP is probably the largest organizer in the world with about 16,195 registered pilots 1,041 chapters across the world.
It is not easy to assess the market prowess of the drone racing organizers. However, while looking at the broader picture, things appear to be quite rosy as a 2016 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted that the world’s drone market will be worth approximately $127 billion in 2020.
The prices of drones and the underlying technology have plummeted sharply in the recent years. If you visit the market for a drone, a pair of FPV goggles and a radio controller, you will probably get the bundle for a price between $500 and $800. Having said that, stuff for rookies can be had between $200 and $300. There have been predictions that this price is likely to fall down to $100 in the coming couple of years or so. A number of organizers encourage the participation of low cost drones designed for beginners at the outset as crashes at high speeds are an integral part of the entire learning process.
eSports, considered as the drone sports’ relative, has also left clues for the industry experts in this regard. Both the industries spawned in the 21st century and have seen massive freefall in prices of the underlying technology. Both have been employing the social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, Twitter and Facebook in an effective manner to enhance their outreach and engage with their target audience.
Newzoo is an eSports analysis company has forecast the growth of both global audience and revenue in eSports and have also outlined the things common with drone sports. This report can provide the basis for setting out standards for growth potential.
Possibilities are unlimited
Drone racing is not the only drone sport around. Another form of drone sport can be seen in the area around San Francisco.
Marque Cornblatt recalls that way around in 2011-12, nerds would flock together on weekends in each other’s backyards to fly drones and indulge in combats.
The concept evolved with time and some of the drone aficionados started introducing stuff such as net launchers, bottle rackets and paintball guns to drones. A small sized flame-thrower was also integrated by one of the geeks to their aircraft. The events slowly and gradually expanded from those having 5 to 6 people to no less than 150-200 people assembling in local parks.
Aerial Sports League (ASL) was set up by Cornblatt and his friends. The league is now responsible for holding a number of drone racing events including an event that can be considered an equivalent of UFC in the drone combat world. In these events, the drone pilots seek out to demolish each other’s machines or get them crashing into the ground. Once grounded, the pit crew has limited time to get back on track into the air. The drone that is unable to fly loses the race eventually.
The Maker Movement and the ASL are considered to be close allies. The installations and competitions organized by the ASL have gained massive traction among audience at numerous recent Maker Faires across the country and the year 2016 saw as many as 250,000 viewers.
Marque Cornblatt is extremely excited about the innovations and technological advancements that have become the norm in the modern drone sport.
He believes that the addition of laser tag and paintball markers to drones will make aerial combats all the more exhilarating and the possibilities seem endless.
The same is held true for the underlying technology used in the development of drones and their flight features. Cornblatt adds that he along with his team is working on a system that lets the pilot fly his drone by virtue of their eye movement and head tracking.
New vistas of opportunities
Creativity in the world of drone sports has its roots buried at the grassroots as a vast majority of the pilots and drone racing league conveners have got acquainted with the repair, maintenance and upgrade procedures as and when required.
Dave Heavyside is the Creative Director at Freedom Class Drones and he is of the view that that drone technology is evolving at an unbelievable pace as more innovative and imaginative products are hitting the shelves every day. He believes that this is fundamentally geared by the DIY regime which is an integral part of drone community.
The Tiny Whoop is a great example as the Team Big Whoop pilot Jesse Perkins went about to modify a conventional Blade Inductrix microdrone by integrating a compact sized FPV camera and enhancing the motors and battery from different manufacturers. The innovation gained traction among drone enthusiasts and they began placing orders for upgrades on his website. Now, the term Tiny Whoop can be considered a parallel to micro or indoor FPV drones.
The interaction between hackers and makers is an added advantage for the drone industry on the whole. Technical hurdles are there in the offing including how to get the quality of FPV video enhanced and transmit it to a larger audience surpassing the physical barriers. As soon as these obstacles are overcome, that time is not far away when you would be able to enjoy a scintillating drone race in the comfort of your home wearing FPV goggles. The drone technology is also in the midst of getting integrating with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies.
STEM-centered innovation could prove to be at the heart of further advancement in the drone technology. Nicholas Horbaczewski tells that his company has been getting emails from school teachers who are happy to share their experiences of how drones are enabling them to reach their students. He believes that the ability to toy and tweak with a drone will enable kids and young students get acquainted with the basic concepts of mechanical engineering, electronics and aerodynamics.