Those aerial chase scenes in Star Wars were done using special effects, but who wouldn’t want to actually race around a 3D course? This is what the Drone Racing League (DRL) plans to do. First-person view (FPV) drone racing (Fig. 1) is fast, fun, and engaging. This year is the first season for DRL, although FPV racing has been around for a while. It could get interesting based on the latest crop of videos on their site.
Drone pilots don virtual reality (VR) glasses that are connected to their aircraft using a wireless link (Fig. 2). The 250 or 280 size quadcopters are equipped with cameras and ringed with LEDs so they can be easily tracked while racing around the 3D track. Spectators can watch the race from the track point of view or from the VR views. The current race course is marked by lighted gates.
The drones and VR glasses push the technology envelope. Drones are usually made from lightweight carbon fiber. VR glasses can have head tracking support to allow pan, tilt, and roll control of the drone’s camera. Dual cameras could provide 3D stereoscopic support.
DRL provides drones for the pilots to even the playing field. The DRL drones have a standard-definition camera for the pilots and an HD camera for producers to provide spectators with race footage. DRL has its own drones and wireless links to improve reliability. The first official race was in Sun Life Stadium in Miami. The second will be in an abandoned mall in Los Angeles.
The drones can hit speeds on the order of 70 mph and, of course, there are crashes. On the plus side, the spectacular destruction is limited to the drone and not the pilot. The race tracks are devoid of spectators, but often enhanced by neon lights and dry ice fog.
The race-course designs are 3D— not just 2D routes like flying around a building. Pilots have to avoid obstacles while flying up and around the course.
DRL is not the only FPV drone competition. The Aerial Sports League is a competing drone-racing league. FPV drone videos are garnering a lot of hits, but it remains to be seen whether they can get spectators at the events either in person or virtually.