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November 1, 2018updated 02 Nov 2018 9:59am

First World Drone Racing Championships take flight

By Ellen Daniel

The 1st FAI World Drone Racing Championships has kicked off today in the Shenzhen Universiade Center-Stadium in Shenzhen, China.

It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but drone racing is in fact part of the rapidly expanding world of drone sports. Combining formula one with e-sports, participants fly radio-controlled drones round brightly-lit courses featuring a variety of obstacles and reaching speeds of 80mph.

Although currently at its early stages, the sport is rapidly taking off, attracting a growing fan base and receiving attention from sponsors. A 2016 report forecast that the world drone market will be worth nearly $127bn by 2020, so with drones poised to infiltrate more aspects of our daily lives, their potential as a spectator sport looks likely to follow a similar trajectory.

Inside the World Drone Racing Championships

This growth is boosted by international sporting events, such as the FAI World Drone Racing Championships. Organised by the World Air Sports Federation, a total of 128 competitors from 34 countries, including 44 juniors, are participating in the four day competition.

Up to six pilots at a time will race battery-powered drones around a specially constructed track, with  races lasting two or three minutes, and the winner being the pilot that completes the course fastest.

The morning of Thursday 1 November was an official practice session for the teams, allowing them to get to grips with the 650m drone-racing track, which is shaped like a traditional Chinese knot and covered in 7,000m of LED lighting.

After that, the first session of official racing will begin, followed by two more qualifying rounds. Competitors will have to complete three laps of the track each round, before the final competition rounds which will be live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. The winner of this race will be crowned the first ever FAI World Drone Racing Champion.

Alongside the main competition there is also a Straight Line Racing competition: a drag race of a straight 100m in which the first pilot over the finish line wins.

Daniela Seel, one of the first pilots to fly in the competition said:

“It was a difficult flight. It’s raining a bit, so there is rain on the camera, so in the third lap I hit the tower and hit the quad. But yes, ok, I managed two laps.

“The track is difficult but ok. It’s something really new to fly at an international competition this large, and it’s great.”