drone racing

When Stars Wars met Robot Wars: It's Drone Wars.

Is drone racing the sport of the future? London Tech Week appears to think so.

On June 12th 2017, London Tech Week returned for its fourth year celebrating London’s tech industry in partnership with Knect365. As Europe’s largest technology festival, London Tech Week features over 55,000 tech experts and businesses including start-ups, scale-ups and large blue chip organisations. The week-long event serves to showcase London as a hub for innovation and expertise within tech and attracts over 40,000 attendees annually. This year, 300 events have been organised, including summits, conferences, seminars, workshops, networking events, open days, award-ceremonies, a high-profile music concert and one of the events we’re most excited about – drone racing. 

Yes, you heard that right. Now, for those of you that don’t know us, at onezeero. we’re pretty vocal about our love for drones – we’ve even given one away as part of a competition on future technologies before. So when we heard that drone racing was coming to London, we just had to comment on it. 

On Tuesday, the Drone Racing League (DRL) brought one of the world’s fastest growing sports to London Tech Week. The Allianz 2017 World Championship Race saw eight world-class drone pilots compete for the title of ‘World’s Greatest’ at London’s Alexandra Palace in the finale of this futuristic competition. Pilots used first person view (FPV) goggles to navigate a three dimensional, one-of-a-kind race course that made use of all of the venue’s spaces. Spectators at this live event were able to sample FPV goggles, experience the action first-hand and attend drone demos hosted by the greatest pilots in the world. This high-octane event will be broadcast by Sky Sports to remote viewers following a strategic partnership designed to boost the profile of the sport and expand its European fan base.

Hold on a minute, what actually is drone racing?

For those unfamiliar with the sport (where have you been?), in first-person drone racing, pilots use FPV goggles to receive a real-time video feed from their quadcoptors as they zip around the course at anywhere from 60 to 120 miles per hour. The drones are equipped with standard-definition cameras and a custom-built radio communications system to ensure the highest quality feed is transmitted to pilots. DRL have gone out of their way to make the experience as exciting and dramatic for viewers as possible, using high definition cameras and futuristic neon lighting to identify drones, pumping in dry ice and creating complex, three dimensional race courses that include tunnels, halls and unique spaces at iconic global venues. Pilots receive scores based on passing checkpoints, finishing time and critically, not splitting into smithereens against a concrete wall part-way through. Think pod racing from Star Wars meets Robot Wars; needless to say, we’re very excited.

Drone racing is a phenomenally fast-growing sport, with first-person drone videos racking up millions of online views. The DRL’s broadcasting deal with ESPN saw 28 million people watch drone racing in the US last year and its popularity has resulted in significant investment of more than $8 million, including funding from Stephen Ross, the owner of the NFL Miami Dolphins, Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy and Sky Ventures. The DRL also announced a partnership with Allianz in February 2017 which will give drone racing the gravitas and exposure it needs to become the ‘future of sport’. And just this week, the Drone Racing League has secured further investment by both insurer Allianz and broadcaster Sky to the tune of $20 million. With such huge promise, the market for drone racing is anything but closed, with over 60 events organised worldwide since 2015 . The Aerial Sports League – one of DRL’s competitors – is set to open a full-scale, drone racing entertainment complex, the maker of Drone Nationals is currently developing the Drone Worlds, Drone Sports Association has snagged sponsorship deals with both GoPro Inc. and Ernst & Young and DR1 is set to become the first drone race to stream on social gaming platform Twitch . As drone development becomes more sophisticated and global demand for the sport increases, it seems highly likely that new models of elite, lightening-speed drones will be created, replicating the format of Formula One.

Is it easy to get involved?

Absolutely! In contrast to Formula One, part of the charm of drone racing is its accessibility. Drone racing can be held anywhere – as DRL have proven with their use of an abandoned shopping mall – and can be played by practically anyone. Drones can market for as little as £40, going up to tens of thousands, depending on the model. This means that almost anyone can experience the euphoric (if nauseating) feeling of simulated flight, become an expert on technique and, if the rate of popularity continues to increase at the rate is currently is, potentially attend amateur and professional competitions with relative ease and proximity. Perhaps demonstrating its accessibility is the fact that the $250,000 grand prize of the World Drone Prix in Dubai was won by a 15 year old British boy.

We know that drone racing may seem a little abstract for a recruitment business to be commenting on – unfortunately for us there isn’t a huge amount of demand for drone pilots just yet – but we think there’s huge potential for this market to grow over the coming years, both professionally and vocationally. It therefore makes complete sense to us that DRL would be listed in London Tech Week’s all-star line-up. And what about DRL – why did they choose London to grow its European fan base? According to Nick Horbaczewski, CEO of the Drone Racing League, in addition to its strong drone-racing community, London “has defined itself as a world-renowned tech and innovation hub, and we wanted to tap in to that .” London Tech Week has therefore certainly fulfilled its aspiration to be seen as a world-leading technology centre, at least to DRL. As for DRL’s aim to host a premier drone racing league in a world where drone racing rivals some of the most popular and time-tested global sports? I guess you’ll just have to watch this space – we certainly will be. 



Bryony Kelly

Bryony Kelly

Bid and Content Executive