How VR & Drones are Sparking up new Sport

By now you may have heard that drone racing has become a hot new kind of sport. We’ve seen drones available for some time, but beyond recreational flying around or filming with them, it’s been hard to see what purpose they really serve. That’s starting to change with the rise of drone racing. The sport is so fast and exciting that some people have compared it to the infamous “pod racing” footage from Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace.

If calling this kind of activity a “sport” gives you pause, you may want to think again. It may seem like more of an after-school game than anything else, but the reality is that it’s starting to take off in a significant way. ESPN aired some drone racing competitions late last year, and will be showing more drone sports this summer. The worldwide leader in sports is working with the DRL (Drone Racing League) to make the activity available for public consumption. While viewership numbers weren’t particularly impressive last fall, it speaks volumes that ESPN is willing to give it another shot. The smart money seems to be on the idea that as more people hear about the DRL, they’ll want to check it out for themselves.

Along these same lines, it’s also worth mentioning that the sports betting industry is starting to take an interest as well. Major bookmakers are only keeping an eye on drone racing right now, but it appears that if viewership and general enthusiasm increase — which might be inevitable with ESPN’s support—odds on the races will soon follow. People need to be watching a sport for betting to be viable, but the two go hand-in-hand. There is no major sport for which there isn’t also an established market, and this could ultimately help to boost the development of professional drone racing.

The most interesting thing about the rise of drone racing might be that probably wouldn’t be possible at all had it not been for VR. When you think about it, controlling a small drone in any race longer than about a hundred yards just isn’t realistic. That’s exactly what VR has enabled drone racers to do. VR drone racing has been called the next frontier in competitive racing as competitors control their drones from the perspective of real-time VR feeds. It enables the races to be longer, and the courses to be more dynamic. With a first person, VR-based perspective on where your drone is going, you take it virtually anywhere.

What will be interesting is how much this impacts viewership if drone racing becomes a popular spectator sport. TV networks will almost undoubtedly provide feeds from the same cameras that allow the competitors to race, and this will make the action unlike anything else in professional sports. It may also persuade more people to try racing themselves, which could really make VR and drone racing a perfect marriage.
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