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The Emergence of AI-Powered Drone Racing

The Emergence of AI-Powered Drone Racing

AI-Powered Drone Racing is a high-speed competitive sport where a team of skilled pilots race drones through three-dimensional tracks at speeds that max out at 120 miles per hour. The drones used in this sport are different from the recreational or industrial used in other fields as they are built with speed, performance, and agility in mind. 


Ever since it emerged as a sport in 2013, drone racing has grown in terms of scope and exposure. At present, it has just started to get more exciting with the Drone Racing League’s introduction of the DRL RacerAI, the league’s pioneer autonomous racing drone that was designed and developed to finally close the gap between human performance and artificial intelligence. It is the first ever autonomous robot drone that functions on its own and completely does away with the need for a human pilot.

The DRL RacerAI debuted on October 8 at the Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit held at the Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, Florida. The four-race circuit featured nine DRL RacerAI drones that functioned completely through AI and without any support from GPS, data relay, or human intervention. This technology was developed as part of the Lockheed Martin AlphaPilot Challenge by nine teams of programmers who coded for several months so they could create the best software that could control the RacerAI. 


The Drone Racing League’s CEO and founder Nicholas Horbaczewski said, “It’s been a long journey from when we first announced the program. It’s always challenging when you’re developing new technology and trying to bring it to life, and I couldn’t be more excited about beginning this process of putting that technology into the field.”

Since the AlphaPilot Challenge was first announced back in September 2018, teams of coders, engineers, and drone enthusiasts have competed against each other in a race to be the first to come up with AI drone technology. Initially, there were more than 400 teams that signed on to do the challenge, and this huge number got cut to just nine teams consisting of a total of 69 members. 

The RacerAI’s launch at the Addition Financial Arena was intended to be the first in a series of AI robotic races that feature less complicated courses pitting computer-controlled drones against each other. The series is expected to end on December 6, 2019, when an AI-piloted drone will compete against a human pilot. 


Ryan Gury, DRL’s chief technology officer, said to the media, “We’re here to watch as robotics evolve beyond humanity. We believe in the future of autonomous robotics.”

Since time immemorial, the concept of pitting humans versus machines has been a compelling idea. For instance, IBM computers have been known to beat humans at Jeopardy and chess; and recently, Google’s AlphaGo racked up wins against the most expert human players of the Go board game. It’s common knowledge that when it comes to calculating mathematical equations and memorizing details, computers will always have us beat. And when it comes to more complicated tasks like AI-Powered Drone Racing, it’s a wonder that it can both be scary and fascinating at the same time.

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