WHEN YOU THINK of spectator sports, you think of big crowds. Hot-dog stands. Beer vendors. Foam No. 1 fingers. Although some sports may actually be better on TV, at least there’s the option of watching the event live and in person. The Drone Racing League won’t be like that, at least not at the beginning. Instead, the league will rely on immersive footage shot from drone-mounted cameras, a professional video production team, and emerging viewing technologies in order to draw fans in. It’ll still be a spectator sport, just an entirely new kind. You’ll watch races as if you’re sitting in a drone’s cockpit, and you’ll probably watch them after the fact. Online, on TV, or on a VR headset. “We’re not really focused on live events,” says Drone Racing League CEO Nick Horbaczewski, who says that may change if the races become popular. The league has six races planned for 2016 across the United States, as well as a course that’ll weave through the tunnels of Miami’s Sun Life Stadium in December.
“We’re focused on post-produced content. It’s the most compelling way to see this. Our goal is to create great content, and we’re sure it’ll find a home and an audience.” The league’s custom-built drones will zip around at speeds of up to 90mph, avoiding walls, weaving through gates, and tailgating one another in midair. But the drones are just one piece of the draw: Each course will be designed to look really cool on video. The speed and smallish size of the drones aren’t the only barriers to having crowds watch each race. The way the Drone Racing League sees it, the race courses will be so complex, with chunks of them hidden from view, that a crowd seeing an entire race would be difficult, if not impossible.
In fact, the pilots themselves would have a hard time steering the drones without some high-tech help. Each of them wear a pair of goggles, one that displays a video feed from a camera mounted on the front of their drone. It’s strictly analog and low-res to keep the video flowing quickly. After all, you don’t want any lag when you’re trying to avoid walls and other drones.