Professional drone racing could become an Olympic sport: DRL CEO

Professional drone racing, where fully manual racing drones are expertly piloted around complex three-dimensional racecourses, could one day become an Olympic sport, according to the CEO of the world’s leading professional drone racing league.

“There’s been a lot of conversations about [drone racing becoming an Olympic sport], and they’ve looked pretty seriously at it for the games coming up in Korea,” said Nicholas Horbaczewski, CEO of the Drone Racing League (DRL), told Factor.

“I don’t think you will see it in the immediate term, but I definitely think there’s discussions around it, there’s excitement about it, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see drone racing appear in the Olympics in the future.”

The largest professional drone league in the world, the Drone Racing League completed its second season this week with a final held at Alexandra Palace in London, the UK. The season will begin airing in over 75 countries next week, including the UK on Sky Sports Mix on the 21st June and the US on ESPN on the 20th June.

Using custom racing drones that require fully manual control, the Drone Racing League has turned the formerly underground sport of drone racing into a rigorous and highly professional affair, suitable for events such as the Olympics.

“We had to develop our own racing drone from the ground up that was sort of the ultimate high-performance machine for drones,” explained Horbaczewski.

“Racing drones are very different from the kind of camera drones you’d go out and buy on the high street; these are very specialised craft.

“I would say camera drones that people buy are sort of like lorries: they’re a functional craft with a very specific purpose. These racing drones are like Formula One cars: they’re built for speed, performance and sport.”

An excited crowd watch the Drone Racing League 2017 season final, which was held this week at Alexandra Palace in London, the UK, and will air next month following a season start next week. Images courtesy of the Drone Racing League

The DRL’s professional drone racers are also a rare breed, coming from a mixture of the remote control community, motorcycle and car racing and the professional videogame community. And while the basics of consumer drone piloting can be picked up fairly easily, racing drones are considerably tougher.

“It is extremely hard to race drones,” said Horbaczewski. “These are fully manual drones, so there’s no stabilisation, there’s no computer-assistance in flying.  They’re truly controlling power to the four different motors and controlling all the dimensions of flight that way.

“Learning to fly a racing drone is challenging; to reach the professional levels you really have to be very exceptional at flying drones.”

Defibrillator-carrying drones improve cardiac arrest responses

Drones could become a vital asset for emergency medical services, after a study undertaken in Sweden found they resulted in a significant cut in response time to cardiac arrests.

In tests undertaken in an area near Stockholm, Sweden, drones were found to arrive an average of 16 minutes before emergency medical services (EMS). Once they arrived, the automated external defibrillator (AED) they carried could be used by a bystander, allowing treatment to be given far quicker than in conventional situations.

Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) are a serious problem, with a low rate of survival. In the US, for example, a patient that has a cardiac arrest away from a medical environment has just an 8-10% chance of surviving.

Time to treatment is an extremely important factor in this: chances of survival drop by the minute when patients are waiting to get help, so anything that can cut the time it takes to treat them with an AED has the potential to be hugely significant.

 

The research, which is published today in the journal JAMA, was conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and involved the use of a drone developed and certified by the Swedish Transportation Agengy.

The drone, which was equipped with an AED weighing 1.7lbs (770g), was stored at a fire station north of Stockholm. Equipped with GPS, an HD camera and autopilot software, it was dispatched for out-of-sight flights to carry the AED to locations where OHCAs had previously occurred, within 6.2 miles.

In all cases the OHCA the drone was responding to was simulated, but the 18 flights the research resulted in did demonstrate to advanced speed at which the drone could arrive versus the EMS.

From the time of the call the EMS took an average of 3:00 minutes to set off, but the drone was launched within 3 seconds from dispatch.

However, the real time savings came from travel distance. The EMS’ medium time to arrive from dispatch was 22:00 minutes, but for the drone it was just 5:21 minutes, giving a median reduction of 16:39 minutes.

Images and video courtesy of the JAMA Network

The time reduction could potentially prove significant for sufferers of cardiac arrest, potentially making the difference between survival and death. However, the research is at this stage still limited, and far more will need to be done before drones become a standard part of emergency medical responses.

“Saving 16 minutes is likely to be clinically important. Nonetheless, further test flights, technological development, and evaluation of integration with dispatch centres and aviation administrators are needed,” the authors, led by Dr Andreas Claesson, wrote.

Then there is the matter of whether using a drone to equip a random bystander with an AED machine will be enough to ensure that cardiac arrest sufferers are given suitable treatment.

“The outcomes of OHCA using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders vs resuscitation by EMS should be studied,” the authors added.