How FPV Drone Racing Became a Hot New Sport
If you walk around your neighborhood long enough or flip through the channels on your TV, there’s a good chance you will come across someone flying a drone.
Although remote controlled (RC) cars, helicopters and planes have been around for decades, it wasn’t until recently that the technology became affordable enough for nearly anyone to take part in this fast-growing hobby. In fact, drones have become such a popular hobby that there is now a professional Drone Racing League that is televised. These contestants compete with fast drones on tight courses, navigating obstacles and racing to the finish line.
But how did this sport became so popular? How did it finally reach the masses through televised events on ESPN? Here’s a quick history.
The Rise of the Drones
The biggest reason that drones have become so popular is that the technology to build affordable, lightweight aircraft has become significantly more affordable.
In order to have a drone worth flying, you need lightweight, long-lasting batteries, electronic controllers, gyroscopes and microcontrollers that, until recently, were too expensive to mass produce for hobbies. But thanks to the rise in cellphone technology and handheld devices like tablets, the industry finally caught up and through innovation has made these crucial components available to nearly anyone for a small price tag.
Not only have these components become more affordable, they’ve become more durable as well, allowing users to take their drones to the limits. Today’s drones are fast, affordable and agile enough to actually race.
Drone racing is very different from taking a drone for a spin in your backyard. Like any contest, drone racing requires quick reflexes, an understanding of the limits of the machine and the ability to understand complex movements.
People who race drones do so at very fast speeds — sometimes reaching over 50 miles per hour — so they need specialized equipment. Their drones are souped up to reach maximum potential, and they even wear helmets called FPV drone goggles that connect with a small camera on their drone so they get a first-person view of their flight path. This lets them see what the drone “sees” so they can make quick maneuvers and avoid crashing.
The Racing League
The Drone Racing League had its first event in Miami is early 2016. They released the video of the event on YouTube, which got the word out that this sport could actually be fun to watch.
Eventually, the founders of the Drone Racing League found interest in ESPN, who agree to a multi-year deal. The first televised event took place in October 2016, with eight more episodes showing on the sports network over the next few months.
The league seems to be getting a lot of positive reviews, so it remains to be seen if the sport catches on. But if it’s anything like the drone industry itself, then there’s a great chance that you could be tuning in to watch drone racing for years to come.
Mike Plambeck is a Drone Enthusiast who is passionate about helping people learn about both commercial and hobby drones. When he’s not out flying or filming he writes for various online publications and spends time with his wife and two young children.