The International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) held the California Cup Championship in Los Angeles this weekend. Hundreds of spectators turned out to watch as racers, wearing First Person View (FPV) goggles, raced small lightweight drones at high speeds in an underground parking garage. Using joysticks to navigate, the racers maneuvered their drones around column and obstacles to take the lead.
Sounds like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but drone racing is taking hold and shifting the type of drones that consumers want. The IDRA, formed only last April, has over 500 members. Drone racers post FPV videos of their flights on YouTube and build huge fanbases – in the same way that skateboarding has its Tony Hawk and extreme skiers had their Shane McConkey, a drone racing superhero called Charpu has received over 100,000 views on some of his videos. And new racers flock to the sport daily.
“We see this as the future,” Charles Zablan, head of IDRA, told the New York Times. “This can be just like the X Games, motocross racing and Red Bull air racing.”
Zablan says that the sport is in its infancy. They seek exotic locations to race (ones with lots of interesting obstacles,) companies to sponsor racers, and new technology to improve the spectator view. The drones move so quickly – up to 70 mph – that spectators without FPV goggles can often see only a blur as the drones zip by. But the sport is growing fast, both here in the US and in Europe; manufacturers are catching on to sponsorship activities and new organizations and races are being developed all the time.
Racing drones are smaller and lighter than most popular hobby drones. For example, while the best-selling DJI Phantom quadcopter weighs just under 3 pounds, most racing drones weigh about a pound. They are most often built by racers from parts bought at hobby stores. But as the sport becomes more mainstream, manufacturers may tap into this piece of the booming consumer drone market.