A British teenager has won $250,000 after placing first in the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai. 15-year-old Luke Bannister piloted his drone to victory along an outdoor track, using a camera mounted on its front to steer the craft through a series of illuminated hoops from a first-person viewpoint, and beating out competition from 150 other teams in the process.
Drone racing has rocketed in popularity over the last year, but Dubai’s World Drone Prix is one of the biggest events yet, with a prize pool of $1 million. More than 2,000 people turned up to see the teams compete for a share of that pot, but it was Luke Bannister’s team, Tornado X-Blades Banni-UK, that beat homegrown crew Dubai Dronetek into second place.
The sport has already attracted investment from the likes of NFL team owners, but it still has some way to go before it breaks into the mainstream. Particularly difficult is the question of how to actually observe the races. Drone pilots fly their racing craft in first-person, using special headsets to see as the drone sees, but for observers the footage can feel — and sound — like being strapped to the front of a particularly excitable wasp. A second camera following the action might help human brains contextualize the movements in space, but some of the nascent racing leagues set their courses inside buildings, making a chase camera’s operation difficult. Still, though, the speed of the craft and the deftness of his control make watching Luke’s victory from Dubai an exhilarating — if slightly nauseating — experience.
This post first appeared on The Verge.