In agriculture, people often refer to them as unmanned aerial vehicles. To the rest of the world, they’re drones. And while we thought we had heard of every possible use for drones, from flying intelligence missions to scouting crop fields, it turns out we were wrong. The sport of the future just might be drone racing!
My wife and I were channel-surfing one night when she stumbled upon a segment about drone racing. A few days later, she found a video about Purdue University’s student drone club. In fact, the Purdue Drone Club decided to hold the first-ever intercollegiate drone racing competition, hosting teams from Ohio State University and the University of Illinois.
OK, maybe drone racing will never rival sports like Indy car racing, NASCAR or the Super Bowl, but then, once upon a time, no one would have believed grown men chasing a pigskin around what looks like a cow pasture would ever become a multibillion-dollar business, either.
According to students and sponsors associated with the Purdue Drone Club, students gather to build their own drones and set up competitive courses for racing. The video featured clips of indoor racing inside the Purdue Armory. The club also does outdoor racing when the weather is fit. For indoor racing, they fly around flags and under arches on a course laid out just for racing drones against each other. When they race outside, they use trees and other natural objects as obstacles for the course.
According to the video announcing the first-ever intercollegiate drone race, interest in the drone club and drone racing in general is growing. The club already boasts well over 100 members.
Do a little searching on the internet and you soon realize there are already organized drone racing leagues across the U.S. Maybe it is the sport of the future. And the future may be here sooner than we think.
How long do drone races last? According to Purdue Drone Club members, not very long. Times come closer to resembling the Kentucky Derby than an Indy car race. Organizers say it’s because the small, high-powered drones used for racing are designed for speed. Batteries only sustain them for two to three minutes. So a drone race will be short. Instead of running out of fuel, drone competitors risk running out of battery power. Speeds reach around 75 miles per hour.
What controls each drone during a race? Apparently, only the competitors control the drones. They control them manually to get them to maneuver around obstacles and perform as they want. There are no automated flight plans here.
If you’re wondering how competitors follow their tiny drone visually as it races off down the course, it’s by using special goggles. These goggles allow them to see their drone during the race.
Drone racing has more ties to real car racing than you might imagine. Purdue club members seem to get most excited when they talk about crashes during races. Some of them love the crashes.
The downside, of course, is having to repair the drone after a crash. Can you imagine pit crews for drone racing? This just might be the start of something bigger than anyone can imagine. Just decades before the Super Bowl, there were cows grazing in a pasture. Somebody specified some boundaries, chased off the cows, brought over some friends, and football was born. Today’s football just might be drone racing!