Is professional drone racing about to take off, or is it just a hobby?

Being able to race other people while soaring in the sky seems fun, but is it a sport? Digital Trends attended Mountain Dew and DR1 Racing’s Day of Drones event at the warehouse turned art studio, The 1896 earlier this month to get a look into the increasingly popular and legally vague world of drone racing to find out if it has a future or if it’s just a fantasy.

At the event, three drone racers from drone racing Team Big Whoop competed against each other with Tiny Whoop drones, a brand of miniature drones created by one of the racers, Jesse Perkins. Those mini drones were hard to keep an eye on as they zipped around guests and performers in the dimly lit warehouse, so the first-person view from the drone cameras was projected on the exposed brick walls behind the stage, helping spectators follow the action. The crowd alternated between watching the projected video and trying to spot the drones whenever they passed by.

This hobby is fast on its way to becoming a sport.

The first-person view from the drone cameras helped heighten to enjoyment, but that was the only convenient way to keep an eye on the race. The race at Day of Drones was also as quick as a horse race, taking up roughly 10 minutes of the three hour event. Because the drones did not have a visible course path, many gave up on watching the video projection and went back to enjoying their drinks, occasionally reengaging with the race whenever one of the quadcopters flew by.

Day of Drones had the general framework of a drone race, but may not be a fair representation of the burgeoning sport. A few days after Day of Drones, The second annual National Drone Racing Championships (NDRC) were held on Governors Island in New York City from August 5 – 7. At NDRC, 150 pilots — those that qualified from a pool of 1,400 — raced [small drones] on a clear course path involving those drones going through colorful hoops. The vast space and unobstructed viewing that Governor’s Island gives was vastly different than the race we saw. Zachry Thayer, a drone pilot from the same Team Big Whoop at Day of Drones, won the race and the $50,000 cash prize.

“Here we have a sport that nerds can now play,” said Chris Thomas, founder of MultiGP Drone Racing League, in an interview with Digital Trends. Team Big Whoop drone racer Jordan Temkin was not as enthusiastic and explained the biggest barrier preventing drone racing from becoming an actual sport is money. He claimed to “only know about two out of the hundreds of thousands of [drone] pilots that get paid,” during a panel discussion at the event.

“Right now, because there is no income for most people, you can’t dedicate your life to becoming the best at whatever that sport is,” Temkin said before mentioning how other professional sports athletes are paid to work to be the best.

This is a growing sentiment in the world of drone racing. At NDRC, Dr. Scot Refsland, the co-founder and chairman of the Drone Sports Association (DSA) told ESPN that drone racing is “not in an environment where we can support a pro racing system right now, so there are no professionals. beginning stages of the sport.” According to Refsland, all of DSA races will be professional by January.

Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations, drone racing is classified as a recreational use of unmanned aerial system (UAS), since most drone racing competitions do not involve in any monetary compensation. Under that distinction, anyone 13 years of age or older who wishes to fly a drone just needs to adhere to safety measures, but no certificate is needed. Once people start getting paid for racing drones, the recreation becomes commercial, requiring drone racers to pass an aeronautics test every 24 months for a certificate and undergo a background check by the Transportation Security Administration (TAA). These stipulations may deter casual drone users from racing, but could also help cultivate a consortium of dedicated drone racers who have dedicated their lives to flying glorified toys.

The drone racing at Day of Drones was a bare bones look into a fast paced sport still being fleshed out. With a 15 year old winning $250,000 at the first ever World Drone Prix in Dubai in March, this hobby is fast on its way to becoming a sport.

Check out our video recap of the event let me know how my drone racing skills are.

Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Emerging Tech

Watch the fearsome DroneHunter X3 pluck rogue UAVs out of the sky

How do you stop enemy drones in their tracks? DroneHunter X3 is a new autonomous anti-drone technology which outruns and then captures rogue drones in midair. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

Adidas has created a running shoe that’s made to be remade

Adidas has unveiled the Futurecraft Loop running shoe that it claims is the first performance footwear to be 100% recyclable. The shoe is the latest green initiative by the sportswear company and will go on sale in 2021.
Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Yale scientists restore cellular activity in a pig’s brain hours after its death

In what some may view as a porcine version of Frankenstein, Yale University scientists have restored circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death. The study is likely to be used to study brain function
Emerging Tech

Russia’s robot news anchor gives human TV presenters hope

Human news anchors anxious about robots taking their jobs will be feeling reassured this week after the appearance on Russian TV of a news-reading android that clearly needs a bit of work.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.
Emerging Tech

U.S., U.K. embrace autonomous robot spy subs that can stay at sea for months

Unmanned, autonomous robot spy submarines that are able to stay at sea for months at a time may be coming to both the United States and its ally across the pond, the U.K. Here's what we know so far.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.