Can drone racing emulate success of Robot Wars on TV?

15 Nov 2017

A drone participating in DR1 Racing. Image: DR1 Racing

With its fast action and sci-tech appeal, drone racing is getting bigger by the year, and now it’s starting to attract a lot of money.

For years now, many of us have watched TV shows such as Robot Wars to stimulate our interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The world of entertainment is changing at a rapid pace with the onset of new technologies, and none more so than in drone racing.

While drones are already being used for a myriad of different uses, the extreme manoeuvrability and speed achieved by the highest-performing drones have created an ideal platform to turn a hobby into a full-on, sci-tech TV sport.

Competitive drone racing

One of the biggest organisations to do this is DR1 Racing, which aims to do to drones what the Premier League did to football.

Similar to Formula 1, the format of the competition pits drone pilots and their drones against one another in a race with a purpose-built track, often with an impressive backdrop.

In DR1 Racing’s case, two of its tracks are located here in Ireland: Bunowen Castle in Galway, and Spike Island in Cork.

Now, speaking with, Brad Foxhoven, CEO and founder of DR1 Racing, explains how and why the league came about.

What made you want to develop a drone-racing project in the first place?

I have always been passionate about the convergence of technology and content. Drone racing provided a unique opportunity to create a new sports platform where the rules, the format and the talent had yet to be discovered or created.

What demand have you seen from television companies looking to feature it?

We are seeing incredible interest on a global scale. To have our Champions Series Finals air on CBS is a major accomplishment and milestone for not only DR1 Racing, but for drone racing as a sport.

It was the first time a professional drone race had aired on a [US] national broadcast network, and this is only our second year.

It would be hard to call out another sport that was able to do that so early on. Even e-sports, with all of the success and growth happening there, has yet to be on a broadcast network.

How have racing drones developed from a technological perspective in the past few years?

There is a tremendous amount of growth in the technology behind drones and drone racing.

Our racing series debuted a 6s battery, which allowed the pilots to fly faster than ever before in a professional drone race. The speed of the drones, the quality of the cameras, controllers and goggles – everything is improving at an exponential rate.

This is allowing the pilots and teams to race better than ever before, and these top teams in our series were able to showcase that during the races.

Spike Island

Spike Island in Cork is home to one of the tracks in DR1 Racing. Image: dleeming69/Shutterstock

What made Ireland an ideal location for drone racing?

What makes DR1 unique is that our races are outside, in these extraordinary iconic settings.

Ireland is not only a beautiful country, it has culturally significant locations that provide a compelling backdrop to our races. We were able to race on the same locations where Vikings fought, pirates battled and wars were waged.

It is important for us to provide courses that are both visually appealing, as well as challenging for the pilots and teams. The 2017 Champions Series season, with two locations in beautiful Ireland, certainly help accomplish that.

How do you envision making drone racing as popular a TV sport as something like football?

Obtaining that level of success will require a few key elements. We must continue to:

  • drive drone-racing innovation through our partnerships with endemic partners
  • support professional pilots and teams with a racing platform that rewards success both on and off the track
  • and create compelling racing content that will draw in new fans while entertaining existing ones.

Updated, 20 November 2017, 9.40am: This article was amended to reflect the differences between DR1 Racing and the Drone Racing League.

Updated, 9.36am, 28 November 2018: This article was amended to remove further mistaken references to Drone Racing League and DRL, which were confused with DR1 Racing. Silicon Republic regrets this error.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic