The Drone Racing League Makes Its First Mainstream Play

I did something really radical and exciting last night. Prior to a concert, a friend and I met for drinks. As we sipped nonalcoholic beverages, we discussed our families, common friends and topics ranging from sports to politics. After the concert, during which a 66-year-old musician performed a 35-year-old record from start to finish, we parted with the standard handshake/hug combo and expressed a desire to do it again sometime soon, possibly even within the next six months.

So you can understand why something as low-octane as the Drone Racing League would fail to pique my interest. I mean, super-futuristic unmanned aircraft piloted from afar through tight-cornered courses by headset-equipped gunners, set to the strains of pulsing music and illuminated in a cascade of neon? Where’s the drama in that? Now, if you’ll excuse me, this Chicago Fire/Chicago P.D./Chicago Med/Chicago Law/Chicago Clergy/Chicago Commissary/Chicago17crossover event isn’t going to watch itself.

Really, I have only one question after enjoying the living frick out of the Drone Racing League’s “The Sport of the Future” newbie-bait video: Do they rent out the arena/facility/whatever showcased in it for birthday parties? Because I would very much like to celebrate my next birthday there. A few hours behind the controls of a turbo-equipped drone would erase the pain associated with turning the calendar on another year, especially if I were given free rein to smash some crap up. I know that drones and gaming are the domain of the 20-something set, but after watching this clip I want in.

As a participant, that is - which is why, as much ass as “The Sport of the Future” may kick, I question the league’s approach. The goal here isn’t to recruit drone enthusiasts; it’s to position the DRL as the next NASCAR (cool personalities, fast machines, potential for disaster at every bend, etc.) and to showcase the fan experience. Yet the only possible reaction after multiple viewings of the clip is I WANT TO TRY THIS. If you’re attempting to sell me on the concept of watching somebody else do the racing, well, I’m busy that afternoon.

That doesn’t diminish the impact of the video, which is all flash and amplified fanfare. After a shot of drones tearing through a vacant arena and a sampling of press mentions that seem juussssssst a bit overstated (“drone pilots are going to be the next sports heroes”), we see one pilot slipping into his gear (headphones with some kind of Star Trek-ish ocular brim) and another few striking their sneeriest tough-competitor poses. We see four drones hovering at the start of a race and another shredding a plant in slo-mo (take that, you skinny-ass conifer!). At the 25-second mark, we encounter a dude who appears to employ the nom de guerre of “Fat Shark.” Indeed, personal branding is alive and well in the DRL.

“The Sport of the Future” certainly creates a sense of excitement around drone racing, but it feels incomplete without more simulation of the fan experience. Am I gonna watch the DRL from afar on a screen, or will I be allowed to attend in person (and, if so, will I need to wear protective head gear)? That’s the sort of question that the Drone Racing League probably oughta answer, at least if it has designs on becoming a spectator pursuit on par with competitive gaming. Based on this video alone, I’m only on board if there’s a place for me in the virtual cockpit.

1 comment about "The Drone Racing League Makes Its First Mainstream Play".
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  1. Steven Arsenault from, January 28, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.

    Hey Larry.

    Drone racing and having fun with drones isn't just for the 20 somethings. I am almost 60 and been building and flying high performance FPV drones for almost 3 years.  I like the larger units over the micro models because the ones I build are way powerful, can fly outside in strong winds, I can program them to fly missions or put on the goggles and fly for miles in the back country while carrying a Go Pro or H4 camera for awesome video. Flying the larger powerful units you also have a 'feeling' of control when you are banking tight corners or rocketing across an open space. The micro units are great as well - they just feel 'fluffy' and get pushed in any small breeze compared to all the power of the larger machines.

    I am accompanied on all my flights by my co pilot - a 30 year old blue and gold Macaw parrot named Archie. We are waiting for some upgrades we've made to the quad copter. One of my drones is being totally rebuilt with even more high performance parts like cermamic motor bearking and light weight retractable landing gear. It should be back from Texas next week.

    I am also a belever is we all need our toys. So for our drone transport vehicle we are recycling old stuff. We use our 1961 XK 150 Jaguar to get where ever we are going and a as a transport vehicle for the dronw. Archie sits on the passenger seat on the way to our next adventure.

    So us older folks are still having fun and experience a bit of the Force in all of our flights.

    Check out the images.

    Hope you get into the sport. Look forward to hearing about your adventures!

    Steven and #archietheparrot

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