This week on the XLIVE interview Series, we sat down with Nicholas Horbaczewski, CEO and Founder of the Drone Racing League. DRL combines some of the best drone pilots with unique locations and their proprietary technology to create a sustainable league, while creating unique and original content to reach spectators and create engaging experiences. We asked him a number of questions about the league, the technology, and the future of DRL. Here’s what he had to say!
For those who don’t know, can you tell us about Drone Racing League, your business model, and provide us with a brief overview of the company?
What happens when you combine the thrill of pod-racing from Star Wars with the real world adrenaline of Formula 1? Drone. Racing. League.
DRL is the pro drone racing sport for elite pilots. With custom built racing drones traveling in speeds above 80 MPH, pilots race FPV (First Person View) through the most insane three-dimensional courses ever created outside of a video game. Our 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship season will feature seven races across the globe that will be broadcast on the best sports programs in the world including ESPN, Sky Sports and Prosieben.
Our Director of Product Ryan Gury had introduced me to FPV racing in early 2015 on an empty field behind a Home Depot in Long Island. It was truly a hobbyist sport at the time, with home-built drones and no real structure. Still, I was captivated by the speed and excitement, and there were moments it reminded me of Star Wars or racing video games I had played growing up. I wanted to see if I could help build it into a pro sport, shared with a global fan base.
Today, DRL is aired in more than 75 countries on leading sports networks including ESPN, Sky, ProSiebensat.1, OSN, Disney XD and FOX Sports Asia, is partnered with some of the world’s top brands including Allianz, BMW and Swatch. Our world-class engineers constantly innovate the technology – from hand-building the DRL Racer3, the high-speed racing drones flown throughout our 2017 Season, to the DRL RacerX, the Guinness World Record setting fastest racing drone on the planet.
Who competes in the Drone Racing League? Are there teams? Do people build and race their own drones?
The most elite drone pilots on the planet compete in DRL. Our pro pilots fly identical drones, the Racer3 that are designed in-house from the circuit board up and built by hand to maximize speed, agility, and competition. Our team of expert engineers manages a fleet of more than 600 identical Racer3 drones, each covered with 209 LED lights, that go 0-80 MPH in less than a second.
Can you tell us about the venues/locations used for DRL races?
At DRL, we put a tremendous amount of planning into building out iconic venues and creating three-dimensional courses that resemble a real-life video game. We want each course to capture the imagination of an at home audience, and to push the pilots’ skill to the very edge of what’s possible. We’ve held a New Orleans float-parade inspired competition at Mardi Gras World, an apocalyptic-Hollywood style event in LA’s abandoned Hawthorne mall, and even the first-ever professional drone race in the UK, staged in London’s Alexandra Palace.
We’re currently gearing up to produce a 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship Season race at Biosphere 2, the world’s largest earth science facility, on Saturday, March 24th.
DRL creates drone racing content with the goal of mass appeal. Can you explain the types of content you create, and how you distribute this content to the masses?
Our award-winning media team develops all of our world-class sporting content in-house – including:
- –DRL Allianz World Championship season races: Taking a multi-faceted approach to shooting our competitions, we leverage the most advanced and unique filming methods while combining the real-time capabilities of 60 onsite cameras to capture a drone the size of a dinner plate zooming at thrilling high speeds in tight proximities through the most dynamic courses ever created
- –Custom commercial spots like our upcoming ad starring our Cox Pilot, Nick “WildWilly” Willard to promote the high-speed Wifi performance of our sponsor Cox Communications, the largest private telecom company in the U.S.
- –Branded, digital videos like the three-part Drone Games series we developed for Amazon Prime Video to drive viewership for The Grand Tour season 2 premier
- –Behind the scenes DRL pilot interviews, FPV freestyle-flying events, and DRL Simulator mashups with real-life drone racing across the same exact DRL maps
To reach and engage our 55 million+ global fans, we distribute our visually enthralling content through our global broadcast partners, like ESPN, Sky and Prosieben, across DRL’s social and digital platforms, and via our sponsors’ owned channels.
Can you talk to us about the 2018 Swatch DRL tryouts and esport tournament?
The 2018 Swatch DRL Tryouts is our fierce esports tournament that recently took place on the DRL Simulator, the true-to-life drone racing simulator. Players who wanted to go from gamer to pro-pilot overnight entered the Tryouts and raced real DRL maps on our sim for a chance to win a spot in the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship Season with a $75,000 professional contract. We invited the top 24 candidates to battle it out live in New York City.
After crushing the 2018 Swatch DRL Tryouts, the insanely fast Brodie “Robogenesis” Springer was named champion, earning the title of the official Swatch Pilot for our 2018 season.
What types of technology are used at DRL events to enhance the fan experience?
With 26 patents for our hardware and software, our team is dedicated to continuously innovating our drone racing technology in order to make DRL the most captivating and immersive sport for fans to watch. For example, our world class engineers hand-build all of our DRL Racer3 drones from scratch. With their high thrust, 200+ brightly colored LED lights, insane agility, and sleek canopies that protect the drones during epic crashes, our high-performance racing quads are thrilling to watch and easy for fans to follow. Because of our proprietary RF technology, our drones are able to navigate 3D course-lines, abruptly changing altitudes while flying through vertical hairpins, dives and climbs across tight and confined spaces, which bring the viewer into an incredibly competitive and visual experience. To control the drones, our pilots wear FPV goggles which display a live video feed from the camera mounted on the front of the drone. We edit that FPV footage into our race content for broadcast and online, and even hand out FPV headsets to spectators at our live events so they can ride along with their favorite pilots and feel like they too are in the cockpit of the drone.
Can you tell us about the DRL simulator?
The DRL Simulator is the world’s most realistic drone flight and racing simulator, available on Steam. We built it to make it easier for a drone racing fan to become a pro pilot, and have the opportunity to race the same courses featured in our 2016 and 2017 DRL Allianz World Championship seasons.
Featuring the first virtual, drone racing training program, our sim offers an extensive tutorial with 50 different missions like throttle, pitch and yowl, so rookies can learn basic flying skills online, without spending hundreds of dollars on crashing real drones during practice. Players get to fly perfectly matched, digitized versions of our DRL drones including:
- –DRL Racer3 – The official 90 MPH pro-racing drone, flown by professional pilots throughout the 2017 Season and designed and hand-built by DRL’s expert engineers
- –DRL RacerX – The fastest racing drone on the planet, which recently set the Guinness World Record™ title for the Fastest ground speed by a battery-powered remote-controlled quadcopter, achieving a top speed of 179.6 MPH
- –DRL Nikko Air – The ultimate entry racing drone for aspiring pilots who want to learn how to fly
What’s the best part of your job, and what’s most challenging?
It’s exhilarating to be building an entirely new pro drone racing sport that merges the digital and the real in a way no other racing format can support, while capturing the imagination of what futuristic sports would look like based on the video games and scifi fantasies we grew up with. Paradoxically, as the world’s first and only professional drone racing organization, it’s an ongoing challenge to meet fans’ incredibly high expectations for drone racing content. Fans immediately think of Star Wars pod racing or the Tron light cycle when they hear about drone racing – ideas based entirely on computer graphics that are nearly impossible to recreate in real life.
We’ve made it our mission to deliver the highest quality racing based on one-of-a-kind technology to live up to the massive expectations and share the thrill of racing with fans in person and watching at home.
What’s next for DRL in 2018?
In the coming weeks, we’re excited to announce several new world-renowned, global brand partners, elite pilots and spectacular race locations for our 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship season, which will begin airing this coming fall on leading sports networks in 75+ countries across the world.