World Drone Prix looks to usher in future of sport

The future of sport is debatably here in the form of drone racing as the inaugural Dubai World Drone Prix crowned a 15-year-old pilot the winner of a $250,000 purse on Saturday.

15-year-old wins inaugural robotic contest in Dubai

A pilot controls their team drone during the final day of the first World Drone Prix in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Kamran Jebreili/The Associated Press)

The future of sport is debatably here in the form of drone racing as the inaugural Dubai World Drone Prix crowned a 15-year-old pilot the winner of a $250,000 purse on Saturday. 

A cabinet-level minister said it was the first of many robotic sports contests to be hosted by the the United Arab Emirates. The World Future Sports Games in December 2017 will include swimming, running, wrestling and car racing, as well as drone flying.

At the World Drone Prix, four pilots at a time sat in racing-style seats, their eyes covered by goggles allowing them to watch a feed from a camera on their drone as it raced around a course behind them. The spectacle closely resembles a scene from the science-fiction movie Tron, and probably won't take off with sport traditionalists. 

The race depends more on technology than it does on athleticism, but the aviation authority's director-general Saif Mohammed al-Suwaidi sees the video game-like races as a sport of skill.

"It is not merely a flying game, but a sport that requires mental focus and accuracy to enable users to harmonize mental commands and hand movements to fly their drone," he said in a statement about the regulation of drones in the UAE.

A promotional video for the event echoed these sentiments, placing traditional athletic sports side by side with the first person view drone races. 

An American competitor said that the onboard cameras allow people to get in to the race like nothing else.

"That's what's making it explode," Zachry Thayer said. "Anybody can go out and all of a sudden, they're Superman." 

He may be on to something, as a video of a drone racing a Police McLaren 650s through the city of Dubai demonstrates. 

The winner, the UK's Luke Bannister, shows that the competition provides at the very least a level playing field. The 15-year-old will share his winnings with his 43-member team the X-Blades Banni UK.

"The lights were awesome," Bannister said. 

With files from the Associated Press


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