High-speed drone racing is coming soon to a screen near you

14 Apr 2016

Racing drone image via ESPN

Get out of the way, Amazon delivery drones, the sport of drone racing piloted by racers using virtual reality (VR) headset-like devices will soon enter the mainstream on the US sports broadcaster ESPN.

Drone racing has exploded in popularity in recent years, with teams of engineers and drone enthusiasts attempting to build the fastest and most manoeuvrable drones on the planet to race them around a track.

While small events have popped up in places around the world, the leading organisation responsible for holding the biggest events is the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA), which organised the recent World Drone Grand Prix in Dubai last March.

Considerable money is now being put behind such competitions, with the first-place winner of the Dubai event picking up a cheque for $250,000

To those unfamiliar with the sport, at first glance it looks incredibly futuristic, with pilots wearing an immersive headset like ones worn for VR devices, which offers them a first-person view of their drone.

‘The sport is skyrocketing’

Spectators who turn up to such events also get a chance to see the race from the pilot’s perspective on big screens placed around the track.

Now, according to ESPN, it will be the first broadcaster to broadcast the competition, with the first scheduled televised event the 2016 US National Drone Racing Championships to be held in August on Governors Island, New York.

“Drone racing gives anyone the ability to fly like a superhero,” said Dr Scot Refsland, chairperson of the IDRA. “Because everyone can experience the thrill of racing as if they were sitting in the drone cockpit, the sport is skyrocketing. To go from a first ever, US national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead.”

ESPN has form when it comes to being on top of trends in the tech world, having funded plans to organise major tournaments for e-sports focused on competitive gaming, most notably with the announcement of the Halo Championship Series Pro League taking place this May with a top prize of $250,000 for the best-performing team.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic