NEW YORK -- The Drone Racing League unveiled on Thursday the latest edition of its racing drone, which fans will get to see in action on ESPN come June.
This is certainly no toy. The DRL Racer3 flies up to 85 miles per hour, and as high as 6-8 kilometers.
"It is dramatically more powerful, faster and more agile than the Racer2," said DRL founder and CEO Nick Horbaczewski, during an interview at DRL's headquarters in New York City on Thursday. "The Racer3 can go from zero to 80 miles an hour in less than a second, which means it can basically accelerate on a dime -- which makes for really exciting racing and allowed us to create larger courses, more extreme courses."
The second season of the Drone Racing League, which was founded in 2015, is already underway. The fourth and final regular-season event will be held in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, next week. After that, the top 12 of DRL's 16 professional pilots will advance to a playoff round in Munich, Germany.
The Racer3 has actually been in the hands of the pilots since late last year, giving them the opportunity to practice extensively before the new season began in January.
"This thing has 16 pounds of thrust, basically which means it can lift 16 pounds -- so we could strap a 15-pound bowling ball to the bottom of this thing and fly it around, that's the amount of power these guys are controlling," Horbaczewski said. "And if you think about controlling that amount of power at 85 miles an hour through three-dimensional space, and then you layer in the fact that they're in the heat of competition and they have to win ... it is an incredibly challenging sport."
"About half the drones crash in every race, so it's a lot," Horbaczewski said. "It's one of the things we love about our sport; crashing is part of the sport of drone racing. And the audiences love a crash, because you see these drones hit a wall at 85 miles an hour and just disintegrate. And unlike motor sports, we don't have the sort of moral hazard associated with crashing."
The ultimate goal, of course, is to avoid crashing and to cross the finish line first. That's easier said than done, however. These aren't like the typical drones you would buy online or find in a store.
"A racing drone is a drone that you pilot through video feed," said Ryan Gury, DRL's director of product. "This drone is made for pure speed and performance. You pilot it like you're on the craft -- you fly through video goggles, and you get an immersive feeling that you're on the craft."
Gury, who was a motorcycle enthusiast before turning to drones, says he thinks the latter is even more exciting.
"There's no acceleration -- you're just at top speed in the blink of an eye, which is really different than bikes and cars," Gury said. "When you're on a bike, you're accelerating through a corner and de-accelerating up to apexes and so forth. With the FPV (first-person view) drone, you can point and shoot like you're in a video game, and it takes a lot more skill because of the rate in which things are occurring. It's instant speed.
"And you can go up, which is another completely different angle to it. You have the entire vertical element in the sport. That, coupled with the amount of speed, is super engaging. It's crazy."
Eight pilots will advance to the Allianz World Championship final in London on June 13, where one will be crowed the 2017 DRL world champion. And then the competition will begin airing on ESPN on June 20 at 8 p.m. ET.
"It's more races, more locations, faster racing, bigger courses," Horbaczewski said of the 2017 season. "We're sort of upping the ante across the board for everything we do."