DRL autonomous racing drone AI drone racing league

Racing drones can now fly themselves too. But are they better than human pilots?

A drone is, by definition, autonomous. So it’s a bit cheeky to see “drone racing” on ESPN, YouTube and more, when the drones are operated by human pilots.

But that’s just changed. The Drone Racing League, which is one of the most well-known professional drone racing circuits, this week launched an autonomous racing drone called the DRL RacerAI.

DRL designed it specifically to be able to defeat human drone pilots. The drone’s mind is powered by the NVIDIA Jetson AGX Xavier compute platform. It has four onboard stereoscopic cameras, which DRL says enables the AI to detect and identify objects with twice the field of view as human pilots.

DRL’s AI drones will fly as part of DRL’s new Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit, an autonomous drone racing series where nine identical DRL RacerAI drones (operated by AI, rather than humans) fly through a course for the fastest time, all without any GPS, data relay or human intervention.

DRL autonomous racing drone AI drone racing league

Is the DRL RacerAI better than a human?

Whether DRL’s fully autonomous racing drone is a better pilot than a human (at least at this point) is unknown, but DRL said they’re continuously working to make their drones smarter.

“Through the competitive AIRR events, we’ll watch the DRL RacerAI get faster and smarter, catch up to human competitors, and one day, outpace the best pilot in the world,” said DRL CEO/Founder Nicholas Horbaczewski.

Whether that day happens this year, we’ll soon find out. The fastest AI drone will compete against the fastest 2019 DRL Allianz World Champion (human) pilot later this year.

The Drone Racing League, which launched in 2015, has put on a number of major events, including Drone Nationals, which aired on ESPN. DRL also has raised millions of dollars of investment funding, including investment from RSE Ventures, the venture-capital firm run by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Ross generated media controversy earlier this year after the longtime Republican donor and billionaire held a Hamptons fundraiser for President Donald Trump, in which attendees paid up to $100,000 for a picture with the President and $250,000 to listen in on a roundtable discussion. The news incited protests of some of the other brands Ross is also invested in, including Equinox and SoulCycle.

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