Today the Drone Racing League announced the launch of the DRL SIM Racing Cup, a competition that takes place entirely inside the DRL SIM flight simulator. Professional drone pilots used to controlling drones at 90 miles per hour will navigate the virtual environment in a competition broadcast on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). The first flights take off Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.
“We’ve never done it before,” DRL founder Nicholas Horbaczewski told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We’re effectively creating a full racing circuit using the best pilots in the world, so it will really show what the simulation kit and pilots are capable of.”
About a dozen pilots will participate from their homes in Canada, Switzerland, the U.S., and the U.K. Fans will be able to download DRL SIM to fly the same courses, and sponsor FanDuel will let fans create fantasy lineups ahead of virtual competitions. The league will end with a championship competition on July 5.
Pilots have committed to donating winning proceeds from the competition to Direct Relief, a group that supplies health care first responders with personal protective equipment, a league spokesperson said.
As basketball players are currently unable to compete in person, the NBA last month launched an NBA2K20 tournament with 16 NBA players, including Kevin Durant. And pro NASCAR drivers participated in NASCAR’s iRacing Series in a simulator. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin closed out the iRacing Series Sunday, according to ESPN.
As professional sports leagues around the world postpone or cancel seasons, the Drone Racing League is moving some of its operations online and into its simulator.
Last year, the Drone Racing League debuted AI Racing (AIR). The competition brought together teams from around the world to create autonomous flight systems and compete in DRL SIM. The winning team competed against human professionals in a championship match for a $2 million prize.
Distinct from other leagues, DRL SIM hosts annual competitions that give the average person a chance to join the league from the comfort of their own home. Each year, the tryout winner can sign a contract and join the league.
In a finale watched by nearly 5 million people last month, Christian “Amari” Van Sloun, a 25-year-old from Ames, Iowa, won this year’s tryouts. He will compete in DRL SIM Racing Cup and the 2020 season set to begin this fall.
Horbaczewski told VentureBeat that DRL SIM and its physics engine were created to help DRL build the world’s fastest quadcopter in 2017 (163.5 miles per hour) and that the DRL’s simulator gives it a distinct advantage over other leagues. No other sporting league combines human amateurs, human pros, and AI competitors in virtual and simulated environments. Horbaczewski envisions the line between competing in the real world and in simulators continuing to blur in the future.
“It’s a unique element of our sport,” he said. “We are authentically a tech company putting on an incredible sports series. Simulation is part of our sport, and we can lean into those different elements.”
DRL SIM is built on the Unity gaming engine. Last year, Microsoft launched Game of Drones — also built on Unity — a racing and AI challenge for its AirSim environment.