The Drone Racing League has seen meteoric success since the launch of its 2016 season.
Last week they introduced a $20 million Series B funding spherical, alongside with new partnerships with Amazon Prime Video, Swatch, and Allianz. They additionally shared the information that their 2017 season will likely be broadcast in 75 nations this yr, up from 40 final yr.
We had been excited to have the alternative to talk with DRL CEO and founder Nicholas Horbaczewski about DRL’s superb success and the 2017 season, which begins as we speak.
Read on to find out about how DRL was first began, the unbelievable expertise that makes FPV racing attainable, and the way forward for drone racing.
Want to tune in to the 2017 season? Races will likely be performed dwell on ESPN each Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm EST beginning tonight—be taught extra about methods to observe right here.
UAV Coach: The Drone Racing League has seen insane progress in a really quick time frame. Can you inform us the story of how the firm was created, and the way you’ve achieved a lot success?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: The story actually begins with drone racing itself.
Drone racing as a sport and a passion has been round for 5 – 6 years. It began in locations like Australia and France, the place folks had been first constructing excessive velocity quadcopter drones and placing an FPV digital camera on them. People had been exchanging data on message boards, assembly up in parking heaps to have these underground novice races, and by the time I got here throughout it in early 2015 drone racing had unfold round the world as a world underground passion.
I used to be first uncovered to FPV racing with a bunch of people that fly in the New York space. I used to be out in a area in Long Island watching them race, and I simply thought it was unbelievable. It jogged my memory of science fiction and video video games, and I believed it had the potential to turn into a serious mainstream sport.
I started an investigation into why regardless that drone racing had been round for a number of years, and had clearly gained a world following, it hadn’t gained extra floor as a mainstream spectator sport. And that preliminary analysis is absolutely the origin of the Drone Racing League, which was in the center of 2015.
What we found as we started the journey of making an attempt to construct DRL into what it’s as we speak was that the primary roadblock was expertise. The drones being raced at the moment used shopper, off-the-shelf tech that was merely not dependable or sturdy sufficient to essentially elevate drone racing to the degree of a real sport.
So we needed to construct all of that expertise, and actually work out what was wanted to make FPV racing occur.
We launched publicly in January of 2016, and confirmed the potential of what drone racing may very well be. We had our first season in 2016, and off we went.
UAV Coach: Describe what the Drone Racing League does in a single quick sentence.
Nicholas Horbaczewski: We are the international skilled circuit for drone racing.
UAV Coach: How did you first become involved in the drone trade?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: Prior to DRL, I used to be the Chief Revenue Officer at Tough Mudder, the mud run collection. But earlier than that I used to be the Chief Information Officer at an organization that sells shopper merchandise to the legislation enforcement and navy area.
We had been the first to start promoting moveable quadcopter drones to legislation enforcement and the navy for numerous reconnaissance functions, and this was lengthy earlier than you noticed drones on the cabinets and heard folks speaking about them. We bought a whole bunch of hundreds of various merchandise, however I nonetheless bear in mind the glowing suggestions we acquired from everybody about how highly effective drones had been as instruments.
So drones have all the time been on my radar, and it didn’t shock me once I noticed them explode onto the shopper scene, and folks undertake them with such ardour.
But I do have a few of the similar challenges different folks have on the shopper facet. Drones are actually cool, however in case you’re not utilizing them as a flying digital camera, what’s the goal of getting a drone?
That’s one in every of the issues I like about FPV racing. Flying is the goal—you fly the drone for the pure enjoyment of it.
UAV Coach: How can folks studying get extra concerned in drone racing? Do it’s important to spend a bunch of cash simply to strive it out?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: Here is what I’d advocate for individuals who need to become involved with racing drones. The first step is to observe DRL’s 2017 season on TV, which will provide you with a way of how unbelievable drone racing could be. The 2017 season begins tonight at 8pm EST on ESPN, so you may tune in and be taught extra there.
In addition to racing, we spend plenty of time educating folks on gear, methods, and totally different elements that make drone racing difficult.
Once you’ve seen drone racing, the second step for getting concerned is studying the way to fly. One of the challenges with drone racing is that it’s a comparatively excessive ability exercise, with a steep studying curve. For most individuals, the very first thing that occurs after shopping for a drone is that you just crash.
To deal with this drawback, we’ve constructed a model new simulator known as DRL High Voltage, which can take you thru the fundamentals, all the method from having by no means flown and up (the simulator is offered on Steam).
The simulator will get you fairly assured with flying a drone, and that’s actually essential as a result of it means that you can concentrate on truly flying whenever you first decide up a drone, as a substitute of determining the way to repair it whenever you crash.
The third step is to get an actual drone. We have a drone popping out in the subsequent few months that we created with our companion Nikko that’s a sturdy distant management drone. It’s a toy and meant to be a starter drone, however it’s actual FPV flight. It comes with goggles and a controller, and we expect it’s the greatest drone on the marketplace for studying the way to fly.
Once you’ve gone via that studying curve—watch it, simulate it, truly do it—from there, there’s an entire world of novice drone racing that you may get into. You can discover a local people and exit to fields and begin racing with a efficiency craft.
UAV Coach: How near actual life is the simulator?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: The simulator is plenty of enjoyable and like a online game, however you too can use it to discover ways to fly.
Actually, you may even use it to check out for DRL and get a professional spot and contract. Last yr we ran a tryout for the 2017 season with the simulator, and that’s how one in every of the pilots competing this yr gained his spot.
Even in case you don’t make all of it that method, whenever you’re carried out with the time you’ve put into it you’ve developed a extremely helpful ability, and you’ll stroll exterior and put that ability to make use of flying your drone. It’s exhausting to consider one other online game that’s so instantly relevant to the actual world past the display screen.
UAV Coach: DRL’s 2017 season is kicking off as we speak. What are you most enthusiastic about this season?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: The races you’ll see this season happen throughout the world—in the U.S., in London, in Munich. We’re racing our new, dramatically improved drone the Racer three, which simply utterly ups the degree of play and permits us to do racing on a scale we’ve by no means carried out earlier than.
We’re additionally introducing a lot of new companions like Amazon Prime Video, Swatch, and Allianz.
But for me, what I’m most enthusiastic about is the racing.
It is simply epic, white knuckle, picture end racing. We have the 16 greatest pilots in the world battling throughout six monumental, elaborate race tracks utilizing extremely excessive efficiency drones.
It’s simply wild. I discover the racing gripping. I’ve been in any respect these races, and I’ll nonetheless watch them once more on TV as a result of it’s simply nice sport.
UAV Coach: Where do you see drone racing getting in the subsequent 5 to 10 years?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: Often when folks ask me about drone racing they’ll analogize it to a different sport. They’ll evaluate it to Formula 1 or UFC or eSports, however one in every of the issues that offers me plenty of ardour for what we’re doing is that we are attempting to construct a brand new, distinctive sports activities leisure ecosystem.
What I feel you’ll see in the future is that we’ll profit from the undeniable fact that we’re not a conventional sport, which creates restrictions on what you are able to do.
So we don’t attempt to put too wonderful some extent on what the future goes to appear to be. Our imaginative and prescient is to construct a serious sport round the world of drone racing, and the world of drone racing retains evolving. And that’s what makes it enjoyable, and it’s additionally what our followers love.
We’re going to remain extremely modern. Every season you’ll see us enhancing and altering the expertise, and the scale on which we do the races. We are extraordinarily open minded about persevering with to evolve the sport. It doesn’t must look precisely prefer it does as we speak endlessly in the future.
We change the expertise on the drones between each single race, and each time we modify the tech it creates prospects we’ve by no means seen earlier than.
UAV Coach: Can you give us some examples of advances in expertise which have pushed drone racing ahead and opened up new prospects?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: DRL is in the beginning a expertise firm. We sat out to construct a race league, and found the tech didn’t exist for it, so we started constructing our personal tech, and we stay very centered on the growth of novel expertise.
On our new Racer three, the enhancements to the onboard avionics permit it to fly with unbelievable precision, and enhancements to issues like ESC expertise permit us to drive extra energy via the energy practice extra reliably.
Quite a lot of our innovation at DRL is round radio methods. We simply held a drone race at Alexander Palace with greater than 2,000 folks in the constructing. We raced six drones via a fancy three dimensional area, with a number of rooms the place the drones had been a kilometer away from the pilots. To try this on a radio system is an enormous accomplishment.
People take this as a right now, however in the current previous drone racing was restricted to the shadows as a result of in case you put too many individuals close to the radios it actually interfered, and will take down the total system.
This has been a step-by-step course of for us, the place we’ve gone from barely dependable radio methods with a restricted vary to bullet proof methods that permit us to have hundreds of individuals in the viewers, with six drones racing without delay on tracks which are huge in measurement.
UAV Coach: One tech-related concern that comes up quite a bit with drones is battery life. Are you doing any work at DRL to increase battery life?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: Battery life is a matter throughout the drone world.
When we moved from the Racer 2 to the Racer three we moved to a wholly custom-designed battery, which gave us considerably extra flight time. We’ve managed to search out enhancements, however these enhancements match inside the bounds of present battery expertise. We’re being smarter about energy extensions on board, and smarter about design.
But what persons are actually on the lookout for is a step change—one thing that may double battery life. We don’t know the place that’s going to come back from, however we definitely suppose there’s extra optimization to do in the racing world inside the present Lipo tech.
UAV Coach: We’ve seen plenty of modifications in the drone trade just lately, with corporations like Parrot, Autel, and GoPro going via huge layoffs, and development and FPV racing rising as stable verticals in the market. Can you share your ideas on the way forward for the trade, in addition to the place you suppose we is likely to be headed concerning laws?
Nicholas Horbaczewski: I feel the drone world is evolving. Quite a lot of my emotions about the shopper market is said to what I stated somewhat bit in the past—drones are very cool, and each time we speak about drones folks crowd round. Right now in New York there’s an exhibit on show at the Intrepid Museum on drones, and it’s drawing large crowds.
So the elementary curiosity is there. But I feel what we’re catching thus far as an trade is that elementary curiosity must translate to some form of goal. I feel racing is only one instance of a goal. Racing drones isn’t a few kind of drone, or a kind of expertise. It’s an outline of a use of drones.
With a few of the current layoffs we’ve seen, it looks like there was somewhat an excessive amount of of simply placing a drone on the market and saying to customers: right here’s a drone. There wasn’t plenty of effort made to say what the drone ought to be used for, past it simply being a flying digital camera.
So I feel we have to be speaking about drones extra in that context going ahead—actually asking, what’s the use of every specific drone for a shopper?
I feel what we do with racing drones is nice, however there’s much more that may be carried out, and I feel we’ll see customers discovering an increasing number of functions.
Regarding laws, we aren’t so impacted by the regulatory atmosphere. We have an excellent relationship with the FAA and with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in addition to worldwide companies like the CAA (which is the equal of the FAA in the U.Okay.).
But I feel drone laws are somewhat little bit of a pink herring in terms of taking a look at the way forward for the drone trade. I feel laws have mainly moved in the proper course, and that we’ll proceed to see them transfer in the proper course. These are considerate, good people who need to see progress proceed in a secure method.
Don’t neglect to tune in tonight for the first race of the season in Miami, FL.
Here are some photos of the course, to whet your urge for food. We can’t wait!