Is FPV drone racing the new Formula 1? Big tech brands jump on board the exciting new sport

Is FPV drone racing the new Formula 1?IBTimes UK

First-person view (FPV) drone racing is an extreme sport that is starting to gain huge popularity in many countries, and it's not surprising that now even major tech companies want to get involved, too.

In the past two years, smaller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) weighing less than 20kg have finally made their way into the consumer space, but there are still many regulations in place preventing their use in urban areas, which is currently stifling the technology's potential to become a huge commercial industry for crop monitoring, photography and deliveries.

However, while lawmakers continue to debate, drone enthusiasts, both men and women, have been quietly developing their very own extreme sport – first-person view (FPV) drone racing, where tiny quadcopter drones bought off the shelf, or as DIY kits, are being modified and souped-up to go head-to-head in fast-paced, nerve-wracking racing championships, such as the World Drone Prix in March in Dubai, with a $250,000 (£175,000) prize that was won by 16-year-old Somerset teenager Luke Bannister.

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On Tuesday 13 April, I was one of a fortunate few who were invited to Wembley Stadium to see the potential of what 4G mobile connectivity and super-fast drone chipsets could do for the future of FPV drone racing and turn it into a wide-scale spectator sport where legions of fans cheer and whoop as small, brightly-lit UAVs zip across the stadium, loop the loop and whiz through a set of challenging obstacles.

This was also the same day that huge sports channel ESPN announced a new multi-year international media distribution deal with the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) to bring FPV drone racing to the masses.

Much better connectivity needed to realise drone racing dream

But in order to get the new sport into people's living rooms and encourage them to be as excited about it as fans of NASCAR racing and Formula 1, there's still a lot of work left to be done.

"FPV drone racing is phenomenally fast-growing sport. But in order for it to become spectator-ready, to really being able to engage people in a stadium like Wembley, you really need to have connectivity," EE's network comms lead Howard Jones tells IBTimes UK.

"The drones go by really fast so it's really hard to keep an eye on the action, so users will need to watch it on a tablet, and a 4G action camera is attached to the front of the drone.

"If you're going to make a sport like this go big, you're going to need a network to rely on that is really fast, really stable and really low latency to be able to show off how fast these drones are going, as well as to give a good user experience to people holding a tablet or watching at home and 4G is the perfect technology for that."

Mobile chipset manufacturer Qualcomm also wants to get on board with its new Snapdragon Flight platform as it feels that FPV racing drones are a great way to really put its technology through its paces, since most Internet of Things (IoT) devices are usually stationed in one place, and are unlikely to be whacked around and carried at immensely fast speeds on a regular basis.

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"In the drone environment, the connectivity has to be done to make sure that the pilot is receiving the information real-time. This is a stress on the environment so we took the technology we developed for the mobile and ported it to drones," Enrico Salvatori, president of Qualcomm Europe, told IBTimes UK.

"This gives the ability to process graphics, particularly to cope with the 4K performance of the camera so that the experience can be shared with the spectators. Our core business is integrating multiple systems on a single chip that we developed for the smartphones market, and now we're opening the technology up for other markets to develop new commercial application for drones outside racing."

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