The world’s biggest drone maker, DJI this week announced a major new product: the DJI FPV drone. Launched on Tuesday, it’s a ready-to-fly, user-friendly drone that can fly up to 87 mph.
So what do the big players in drone racing think about the new DJI FPV drone?
For starters, it’s worth noting that DJI had never before built a drone of this sort, despite the fact that the FPV industry is already relatively strong. A 2020 report from Transparency Market Research predicted that drone racing could become a $786 million by 2027. And much of that growth to-date is led by the Drone Racing League (or DRL, for short).
DRL is known for its flashy, highly-produced FPV racing competitions that have aired on sports networks including ESPN and NBC. The company also scored a major deal earlier this year with DraftKings to add sports betting in some states, and also landed a partnership with T-Mobile to create the first integrated 5G drones.
So how does DRL feel about DJI’s mega announcement about its all new FPV drone? In short: ecstatic.
“To have a ready to fly, off the shelf product is a total game-changer,” said Drone Racing League CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski in an interview with The Drone Girl. “It’s going to open this up to so many people. Tuesday was a great day for the FPV industry.”
That’s because swaths of people were just exposed to FPV and drone racing for possibly the first time ever after YouTube stars and other celebrity influencers like iJustine shared their first experiences flying the new DJI FPV drone with their millions of fans.
In fact, thanks to a series of leaks ahead of the actual product launch, DRL was able to get in on the launch day bonanza too. DRL put together a social media campaign to document the monumental occasion, dubbing Tuesday as #FPVday.
“We wanted to turn it into a celebration around FPV flying,” Horbaczewski said.
The new DJI FPV drone is set to make the world of drone racing accessible to a huge majority of the population. After all, the DJI FPV drone is largely ready to fly out of the box. Different flight modes make the drone easier or more challenging to fly (and consequently, crash) based on your skill level. All the parts you need to take off are included in the box, so you don’t need to worry about trying to pair controllers and goggles from different brands, or figure out which battery is compatible with your drone.
Horbaczewski said one of the most common questions he receives from the public is simply how to get started drone racing. People can watch races on NBC, but when they ask how to get started racing themselves, it’s difficult to give an easy answer given that there are few-to-no reliable off-the-shelf options available until now (aside from super low-budget drone racing kits like the Fat Shark 101 Training system).
“Even just explaining how to safely charge the batteries for a homemade FPV drone is an extensive process,” he said. “Now you can just buy everything with one click.”
But while this week marked a major milestone for FPV drone racing, Horbaczewski said he’s looking even more long-term.
“As interesting as the launch is, I’m much more interested in the snowball effect,” he said. “These drones are going to be in consumers’ hands within a week. And we know that everyone that experiences FPV flight is immediately hooked on it. From there, there’s a snowball effect of creating content, sharing it online for friends to see, going to races, bringing friends to races, and on.”
Of course, that also means a lot of newbies will be suddenly joining — and in a way, upending — the world of drone racing. Some people are worried that the integrity of the hobby, which largely was founded by people building homemade drones in their garage — will shift as people spend more than $1,000 on a mass-produced drone. Others worry that this will continue to pump up DJI’s already-massive dominance in the drone industry. DJI easily cornered photography and industrial applications. Cornering drone racing on top of that could pump the Chinese drone maker’s already-estimated ~70% market share even higher.
At least Horbaczewski isn’t worried about it, noting that the hobby has already undergone many huge changes since its inception, including the Dubai’s World Drone Prix that put a massive $1 million prize pool on the table (with the grand prize going to a teenager), the launch of the first-ready-to-fly drone models, and even the millions of sponsorship dollars his own company, DRL has infused into the industry that brought it to mainstream audiences via the likes of NBC and ESPN.
Throw in Federal Aviation Administration regulations that have largely been incited by rise of the drone industry as a whole (like Remote ID and registration requirements) and the hobby of FPV drone racing is no stranger to significant, growth-driven changes.
Horbaczewski is optimistic — and he said he’s encouraged by the expansion of the industry more than anything.
“I understand it’s always a bit of a shock when something changes, but the FPV community is used to this,” he said. “The new DJI FPV drone will make our hobby more accepted, more recognized.”
Of course, Horbaczewski is still cautious about putting FPV drones — particularly those of the $1,000+ sort — in the hands of complete newbies. He recommends his company’s simulator called the DRL SIM, which operates on systems including many Xbox consoles, as a way to practice. After all, you still don’t want to crash a $1,000+ new FPV drone too hard.
“It’s a cost-effective, low-friction way to get FPV experience under your belt,” he said. For a physical drone for complete beginners, The Drone Girl also recommends starting with a cheap, practice drone under $100.
“FPV is still a challenging thing,” Horbaczewski said. “It still has a learning curve. A lot of DJI’s launch material flagged that if you’re in manual mode, you can still damage it.”
In short — don’t jump into the new DJI FPV drone as your first experience flying drones.
But in a few months, expect to see the world of drone racing get bigger than ever, thanks to new fans. And with that, DRL also has plans for the new year. Horbaczewski said fans should expect sports betting to be a part of drone racing going forward. The company is going to continue pursuing 5G with its T-Mobile partnership. And Horbaczewski is eager for pilots who got hooked on drones via DJI to become hooked on DRL too.
“This is giant milestone for FPV,” he said. “This is going to make the sport accessible to millions of people overnight.”