Have you ever heard of drone racing? Our Turtler Team was very lucky to interview Nicholas Horbaczewski, the CEO & Founder of the Drone Racing League (DRL) and Matthew Evans, drone racing pilot.
Before founding DRL in 2015, Nicholas served as the Chief Revenue Officer of Tough Mudder, the largest mass participation running event series in the world, which grew to over 60 global events and $100mm in revenue during his time there. Prior to Tough Mudder, he developed an interest in multicopters while the Chief Information Officer of ADS, a $1.5b distributor of advanced hardware to the US government. Nicholas also co-founded Leeden Media, an entertainment company for feature-length independent films, and brings his love of production to his work at DRL.
Nicholas was recently named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 50 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs, a Crain's 40 Under 40 member, and the creator one of FastCompany's Most Innovative Companies in the World and Ad Age's Startup to Watch.
- A few decades ago drone racing was a dream and nobody expected that technology would step into the future so fast. What is your story of success?
It’s been incredible to collaborate with our team of tech visionaries to speed the sport of drone racing into the mainstream. In 2015, I met Ryan Gury, DRL’s Director of Product, and he introduced me to FPV (First Person View) racing in a parking lot behind a Home Depot on Long Island. At the time, drone racing was a small but growing hobbyist sport taking place underground all over the world, and I saw the potential for it to grow into something bigger. I knew that if we could build out the technology, media, and sports ecosystem required to bring drone racing to a massive audience, we could professionalize drone racing to create the sport of the future.
Our investment in the technology was the first step. Ryan leads a team of expert drone engineers who are constantly innovating and developing new, cutting edge drone technology to bring high-speed drone racing to elaborate, three-dimensional courses that have never existed for any other sport. From hand-building a fleet of 600 identical DRL Racer3 drones that can go from 0 - 80 MPH in under a second to developing a patented radio frequency system that allow the drones to fly through eight feet of concrete, our tech team has made it possible to blend the digital and physical worlds together, and bring DRL to any space you can imagine a drone race -- from Alexandra Palace in London to The Adventuredome at Circus Las Vegas, a five-acre indoor amusement park.
- DRL is the premier international drone racing circuit for professional pilots. Do you have any youth support programs? What advice would you give to the young generation for the drone future?
We love helping to inspire the next generation of drone engineers and pilots - whether it’s through our DRL pilot-led drone flying demo for students from Mexico before our 2018 season race at the University of Arizona's Biosphere 2, the largest enclosed ecological observatory on the planet, or our upcoming STEM program in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where DRL engineers will teach students how to build and fly their own racing drones before our World Championship race next month. We also encourage anyone in the world to download the DRL Simulator, our drone racing simulator available on Steam, to learn how to become a better FPV pilot in real life. Featuring the first virtual drone racing training program, the DRL Simulator offers an extensive tutorial with 50 different missions like throttle, pitch, and yowl, so rookies of all ages can learn basic flying skills online, without spending hundreds of dollars on crashing real drones during practice.
As for the future, I truly believe drones are here to stay. I’d encourage the next generation to continue to discover what these unmanned aerial vehicles are capable of and help advance the type of FPV video streaming technology that DRL is pioneering, which will enable drones to operate at higher speeds and through congested urban environments, while transforming the emergency response and urban package delivery spaces.
- Could you please tell us more about the Guinness World Records achievement of DRL’s RacerX?
In July 2017, we built and tested the fastest racing drone on the planet, setting the Guinness World Records title for the Fastest ground speed by a battery-powered remote-controlled quadcopter. Hand-built by our Director of Product, Ryan Gury, and our team of expert drone engineers, the DRL RacerX, zooms at a never-before-seen top speed of 179.6 MPH.
In order to set the Guinness World Records achievement, the drone needed to fly back and forth across a measurement course of 100 meters (328 feet), with the official record set as the average of the top speed achieved on each of those flights. Therefore, the official speed measured for the Guinness World Records title is 163.5 MPH.
We're thrilled to have put our proprietary technology to the test, as we're all about speed and pushing the limits of drone design here at DRL. The record-setting DRL RacerX represents the culmination of years of technological innovation by our team of world-class engineers, and we’re aiming to break our own record soon.
- What requirements should a drone racer meet for joining the DRL?
As the only professional, global drone racing circuit, we are looking for the absolute best drone pilots on earth. Our pilots have tons of drone racing wins under their belt, train rigorously, have incredible hand-eye coordination, and possess a performance athlete’s mindset, enabling them to crush DRL races even as thousands of live spectators cheer them on and 60 onsite cameras film their every move.
We discover new elite pilots by scouting at grassroots racing events like MultiGP, reviewing pilot applications and Youtube videos submitted through our website, and recruiting through our esports tournament, the Swatch DRL Tryouts, on the DRL Simulator, the world’s most realistic drone flight and racing simulator available on Steam.
Serving as the ultimate starting point to drone racing, the DRL Simulator enables any 18+ year-old gamer to become a professional pilot overnight through the Swatch DRL Tryouts, which have transformed gamers like Jacob “Jawz” Schneider and Emmanuel “UFO” Moto into pro DRL pilots. We’ll be opening our 2019 Swatch DRL Tryouts to find next year’s newest DRL pilots, so stay tuned.
- Will there be any special surprises for the drone racers during the Drone Racing Semifinals? No doubts, this information is confidential, but the audience is looking for “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses). We would be honoured to present this information to them first.
As we want each DRL course to capture the imagination of our fans and push the pilots’ skills to the very edge of what's possible, we put a tremendous amount of planning into creating three-dimensional maps that resemble a real-life video game and building out iconic venues to host the race -- like our thrilling Semifinals event at the BMW Welt, the multisensory brand and product experience center of the BMW Group, located in the heart of Munich, Germany. Our 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship Semifinals at the BMW Welt, featured our largest live audience ever at a DRL race with more than 3,000 fans cheering on their favorite pilots. But for the real surprises and action, you’re going to have to tune into our broadcast on top sports networks in 75 countries worldwide, including ESPN, Prosieben, and Sky starting on September 6, 2018.
Matthew Evans was also very kind to spend his time with the Turtler Team and answered a few questions. Drone racing pilot sounds very exciting. So, let`s see how the DRL looks like from the inside.
- How has everything started? How did you find yourself in drones?
I started in remote control flying around 12 years ago, originally Helicopters as I wanted something I could mechanically tinker with, learn how it flies, and also learn to fly it. As the years progressed I also moved into RC planes, and around 5 years ago now the term FPV became a thing. People were attaching bits of wood together with 4 motors on and using very basic flight controllers to keep the multirotors level. At that point I entered the world of drones, and haven't really looked back. At first, we'd struggle to fly even around basic objects such as trees, but after a few weeks we started progressing faster and faster. I entered my first race around 6 months after my first flight and actually won it. At that point I saw that this could really be a thing and spent more and more time into building and learning all about drones, particularly from a racing aspect.
- What do you feel when piloting a drone?
Piloting a drone is like no other experience. We strap on our goggles and it's as if we're in a cinema, albeit a low-quality cinema. But once you get flying, or get into the zone, there's nothing around you - no noise, no distractions, no cares for the world - it's just you piloting your drone from a first person perspective. You can race low to the ground at 80mph or soar into the skies like a bird, you are free. Flying FPV is a great sensation, but racing is a whole other aspect - the adrenaline and competition of it all is just amazing.
- I have seen some of your videos and they are great. Do you install a GPS device on your drones just in case it could get lost?
I'm not one to fly that far away, and I always record my flights with an on-board DVR in my goggles so in the event I do crash (which still happens a lot!), I can play back the footage if the location of it is not immediately obvious. Bigger or more expensive drones, particularly for photography, rely on GPS for stability though, and that has lots of advantages.
- How far can a drone fly and how far can you control it?
Racing drones typically fly for around 2 minutes, and with the technology of today it's really as far as you are willing to go, I, however, am much more focused in a close proximity when it comes to racing, and for freestyle I set personal boundaries that I know are safe and within walking limits - you don't want to crash too far away!
- Is a piloting drones as exciting as driving a fast car or riding motorcycle?
I'd argue it's more exciting! While you don't get that feedback of gravity and g-forces when you swing around corners, you are going much faster than you ever would in a car because the risk of injury is reduced - you are not inside the drone, and so crashing is just going to cost you money.
- Drones are very popular among youth. What advice can you give to the future drone racers?
Your best option is to get a good Transmitter that can be used on a flight simulator. Flight simulators range from free up to around $30, but give you the core flying skills needed to pilot your first drone. Crashing in the simulator is free and will save you literally hundreds of dollars, as well as honing in your skills much faster. I recommend the DRL Simulator, available on Steam - it has custom drones, custom maps and of course being able to race the courses flown in the DRL is just amazing.
Enthusiasm and passion in what you do lead you to success. A few decades ago we barely heard about drones, but now because of DRL we enjoy spectacular drong racing shows. So, let`s stay tuned and enjoy the upcoming DRL Season 3 on ESPN, September 6, 2018.