Teen wins world's first World Drone Prix
A team led by a 15-year-old pilot from England took first place in the World Drone Prix. It is a new contest. It was held March 12. The contest hopes to take flight both in the Mideast country of the United Arab Emirates and with sports fans worldwide.
Luke Bannister is from Somerset. He led Tornado X-Blades Banni UK to win a $250,000 purse. The money was part of $1 million in prizes. Meanwhile, an official announced the start of the World Future Sports Games. They will be held in December 2017.
Those contests next year will include robotic swimming, running, wrestling and car racing. And, of course, drone flying.
"We are trying to bring the future closer to us," said Mohammed al-Gergawi. He is the United Arab Emirates' minister for Cabinet affairs.
At the World Drone Prix in Dubai, four pilots at a time sat in racing-style seats. Their eyes were covered by goggles. The goggles allowed them to watch a feed from a camera on their drone. The drones raced on a course behind them. They zipped along a white track. It occasionally reached up to pinch at the speeding aircraft for 12 laps. The skyscrapers of the Dubai Marina could be seen behind them.
The pilots wore the white racing jumpsuits. Their attire was similar to Formula One auto racing. Drone racers have to worry about what's above and below them as they fly their drones, said Zachry Thayer. He is a 25-year-old pilot for Team Big Whoop. The team is from Fort Collins, Colorado. The onboard camera puts a racer into the action like nothing else, he said.
"That's what's making it explode," Thayer said. "Anybody can go out and all of a sudden, they're Superman,"
The crafts flown resembled Erector Set creations. One team used a cheap disposable lighter to solder a wire. Glowing fluorescent lights guided the way around the 650-yard track.
Racers had to take at least one pit stop in the race. Their crews leaned down to change out batteries. Pilots also had to decide whether to take short cuts. Sometimes they saw their drones crash into the ground. Or even crash into each other.
Dubai was once a sleepy desert port city. Now it is home to the world's tallest building. It also is home to the airline Emirates. The city has embraced drones. Dubai's ruler is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He has given the $1 million Drones for Good Award over the last two years.
Government agencies across the larger United Arab Emirates are eager to be seen using new technology. Many use drones. Their activities are varied. Drones have inspected buildings and calmed a frantic Abu Dhabi window-washer. That was in 2014. The worker was caught 10 stories up. His scaffolding had gotten stuck.
Small hobby drones for sale sit on display in electronics stores in the country's many luxury malls. And Al-Dhafra Air Base hosts some of the U.S. military's unmanned aircraft. They fly missions over Iraq and Syria that target the Islamic State group.
The rise of hobbyist drone pilots has caused some problems, too. Dubai International Airport is the world's busiest for international travel. It has seen drones fly into its airspace. The airport has had to halt its flights.
Since February, drone owners have been required to register with the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority. Officials have banned hobbyists from putting cameras or lasers on their drones.
"It is not merely a flying game. It is a sport that requires mental focus and accuracy to enable users to harmonize mental commands and hand movements to fly their drone," said Saif Mohammed al-Suwaidi. He is the aviation authority's director-general.
Many poeple compare the sport to that of competitive video game playing. One reason for that is that competitors fly an aircraft they're not actually in. So-called eSports revenue was nearly $750 million worldwide in 2015. Sponsorships and advertising accounted for $578 million. That is according to the New York-based gaming-research firm SuperData.
"Obviously, there's a crossover with gaming, as you can see with the HD goggles," said Nigel Tomlinson of Manchester, United Kingdom. He was the manager of Luke Bannister's team.
Those millions likely inspired authorities to announce the World Future Sports Games. That is in addition to Dubai's determination to always be ahead. The games are tentatively scheduled for Dec. 28-30, 2017. Officials hope to hold the games once every two years.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How might this contest have an effect on use of drones?
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