Drones

Fifteen-year-old pilot claims $250,000 in drone racing's richest event

In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
View 18 Images
In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
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In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
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Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
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In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
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Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
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In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix
150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
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150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
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Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
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150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
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The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
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Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
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The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
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Pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view
Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
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Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
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The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline providing the background
The purpose-built course in Dubai that played host to the World Drone Prix
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The purpose-built course in Dubai that played host to the World Drone Prix
150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
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150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
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Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix
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150 teams in total started out in the World Drone Prix

Not too long ago, superior joystick skills at the age of 15 might have won you nothing more than bragging rights among your gaming buddies, but for one young pilot from England, it has led to a huge payday and instant recognition among a global community. In Dubai over the weekend, Luke Bannister beat out 150 other competitors from around the world to lead his team to victory at the first World Drone Prix, returning home with a cool US$250,000 in tow.

The inaugural World Drone Prix took place over March 11 and 12 at Skydive Dubai on the world's first racetrack built specifically for drones. In this drone racing competition, like other drone events of amateur and professional nature around the world, pilots wear virtual reality headsets and steer their vehicles around the race track in first person view.

Although a number of drone racing contests have popped up in the last 12 months, none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix. A total of $1 million was on offer, spread out across freestyle and racing categories, with other prizes awarded for a crowd favorite, fastest lap and fastest local team from the United Arab Emirates.

The purpose-built course in Dubai that played host to the World Drone Prix
The purpose-built course in Dubai that played host to the World Drone Prix

But the track racing category was very much positioned as the main event. Some 150 teams, hailing from all around the globe, started out in the World Drone Prix. Entrants were able to remotely qualify for the event via an American Idol-style submission video. Then, at an indoor qualifying track at Skydive Dubai, this number was whittled down to 32.

The field then pitted their drones against one another on an outdoor, 591-m (646-yd) race track. The illuminated course tempts the more audacious competitors with Mario Kart-style shortcuts and makes for quite a spectacular setting with Dubai's towering skyline in the background.

The 32 was cut down to a round of 16, followed by semi finals and then a grand finale on Saturday night. Bannister's Tornado X-Blades Banni UK team claimed first place in the final, beating out Dubai Drone Tek, VS Meshcheriakov and Dutch Drone Race Team SQG , whose hauls of $125,000, $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, aren't exactly pocket change either. By way of comparison, and to demonstrate how the sport has exploded in popularity, last year's inaugural US Drone Racing National Championship offered a total purse of $25,000.

Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix
Other drone racing contests have popped up in the last twelve months, but none quite match the generous purse of the World Drone Prix

That Dubai is offering up plenty of money for such an event doesn't really come as a surprise, and not just because of its reputation for extravagance. Last year it launched the $1 million Drones For Good competition, a global contest aimed at highlighting the humanitarian potential of the technology.

Meanwhile, a cabinet-level minister used the World Drone Prix event to launch the Word Future Sports Games. Set to take place in December 2017, the event is designed to drive innovation and contributions to research and technology. Among the competitions will be driverless car racing, robotic soccer, running and swimming and of course, drone racing.

Whatever the successes and failures of the first World Future Sports Games, Dubai is clearly hoping a big bet on robotics will pay big dividends in the long term.

You can check out some of the first-person view video from the World Drone Prix's final race below.

Source: World Drone Prix

The Final Race of the biggest drone race, the World Drone Prix. #WDP16

7 comments
CharlieSeattle
In another age, this kid would have been an Champion Archer. In another age, this kid would have been an Ace Spitfire pilot.
Bob Flint
Was that a pit stop @ 7:20?
Wolf0579
For racing flying devices... a ...track?!?
Timelord
@CharlieSeattle: That's a bit of a stretch. That's like looking at the best first person shooter players and saying in another age, they could have been Navy SEALs. The Air Force found out that their best pilots aren't the best candidates for Predator and Reaper operators. Drone pilots and regular pilots have different skill sets and physical requirements that don't translate both ways. USAF has ten times the number of pilots as drone operators, and they're having problems keeping the ranks of the latter filled. @Wolf0579: Air races involving full-size aerobatic planes also race over tracks. The Dubai course just provides more visual cues for spectator interest, which would be extremely expensive to implement on the full-size tracks.
Galane
Drones are autonomous. These are RPVs. I assume the video was not taken from the winner's race, unless perhaps there were pilot changes at the pitstops. After the first stop the flying was horrible, right off the bat it takes off into the middle of the track and flies about aimlessly for a bit before going through the first gate. Then it goes much wider on the turns. If that was the winning run, the rest must have been very poor.
KentDurgan
That... was really badass. My head was bobbin' all over the place watching this video. Imagine how it would look using VR.
Grunchy
They've been flying drones for decades: http://www.rfcafe.com/references/popular-electronics/drones-rc-war-games-april-1956-popular-electronics.htm
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