If you are something on a ‘sports honeybee’ happily flitting from one sport to another, while keeping your eye out for the next one to watch – that’s me in a honeycomb in keeping with the metaphor – you know there are always new sports popping up.
No one knew what spike ball, or its bigger cousin 360 Ball was a decade ago, and so it goes for the sport highlighted here this week – drone racing.
Perhaps a decade ago the sport was an idea for somebody but the first U.S. National Drone Racing Championships was held in 2015, so the sport still has a ‘new car smell’ to it, as something quite fresh.
That I am writing about the sport is something of a personal surprise as generally I do not watch race sports. When I list my favorite individual sports ice and ski cross make the top-15, but racing is typically something I avoid.
Now I’ll admit that I am also far from a diehard follower of drone racing, the little fliers buzz around their courses at speeds up to 90 miles per hour making following who leads who a bit of a visual chore, but the sport still rather fascinates me.
The potential for the sport is practically limitless given that races can be held virtually, as is the case this year with COVID-19 making gathering for races a no-go.
But even outside the virtual world, racing drones in our physical world can mean courses in old mines, biospheres, and across cityscapes. You can, well pro racers can at least, manoeuvre their drones through some simply fascinating locales. Races have been held in and around Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, and Biosphere 2 an American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona.
And, yes there are pro drone racers, Gabriel Kocher among them.
Kocher, who was born in Switzerland, is the two-time Canadian drone national champion, and one of the top guns with the Drone Racing League which holds races around the world, albeit something of an unlikely eventuality for him.
In a recent telephone conversation Kocher said he moved to Canada eight years ago to pursue educational opportunities. He is pursuing a PhD candidacy at McGill University in material science and theoretical physics.
“The first year I kind of kept doing the PhD with drone racing on the side, but now drone racing has kind of taken over,” he said, although he is working with the University of Zurich researching drone tech, so his education and his sport are dovetailing.
But, as life sometimes goes Kocher ended up watching drone races one day, and thought he could fly them too.
“Drone racing is really my hobby,” he said, although he admitted he is more focused at present in flying than in his PhD.
So what captivated Kocher about the sport?
“I think it’s really the first person view,” he said. With drone racing the pilots wear goggles that let them see the course they are flying virtually, basically as if they were in the cockpit of the roughly lunchbox-sized drones.
Unlike car racing, done on a flat track, drones taking racing to the third dimension, so it’s not just drifting around curves and speeding down straightaways, said Kocher, noting they must fly the drones up and down through gates on course too.
It also happens drone racing is a blast according to Kocher.
“The sport is meant to be something fun,” he said, adding it’s the entire experience, from the unique courses, to the world travel, to the piloting of the drones.
“It is very fun travelling the world doing something that you love.”