Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Is Drone Racing a Sport Yet?

Breakneck speeds, daring maneuvers, lucrative TV contracts, and large cash prizes—it’s way more exciting than golf.

Forget the football. The latest pastime to become a full-fledged sports phenomenon is drone racing.

Competing for supremacy in the air at small scale isn’t a new phenomenon: people have been going head to head with remote-controlled aircraft in fields for a long old time. But in the last few years, technology has provided competitions with a huge shot of adrenaline, in the form of the first-person view.

Nowadays, the small, nimble drones that zip through the air at speeds over 100 miles per hour are equipped with light, high-definition cameras, which wirelessly beam footage back to a pilot. A head-mounted display makes it feel as if that person controlling the drone is right on board. You can get a flavor for how exhilarating the perspective can be by watching videos like these.

But what started out as a grassroots hobby, where friends gathered for weekends of racing in the woods or through abandoned buildings, has suddenly exploded in popularity. The U.S. already has a national championship for racers, and this year Dubai hosted the first World Drone Prix. The winner—a 15-year-old pilot from England—walked away with $250,000.

Now, British broadcaster Sky has invested $1 million into the U.S.-based Drone Racing League, securing rights to broadcast events in the U.K. The league, which also has TV contracts with ESPN and 7Sports, will venture outside America next year, with at least one race taking place in London. Truly, drone racing is becoming a touring circus, like a pocket-size version of Formula 1.

For some of the best drone flyers, though, straight-down-the-line racing is already starting to lose its appeal. In a recent Wired feature, the widely revered pilot Carlos Puertolas explained that as head-to-head races becomes the mainstream, there’s more excitement to be found in flying freestyle—as he demonstrates in this dizzying video. As in snowboarding or skateboarding, this is drone racing’s alternative scene, where tricks and stunts, rather than outright speed, are what demonstrates talent.

Drone racing, then, has all the attributes of a modern sport: big money, TV coverage, speed, fierce competition … and a breakaway tribe that prefers to shun the commercialized side of things. Sounds like it’s time to tune in.

(Read more: The Guardian, Wired)

AI is here.
Own what happens next at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.