Georgia Tech team helps drone racing league

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A team at Georgia Tech helped invent some incredible technology to help drone pilots around the world compete in the international Drone Racing League.

It looks like a scene straight out of "Star Wars" with the stakes as high as Formula 1.

"The real pilots are competing professionally," said Ryan Gury of the Drone Racing League. "They practice for thousands of hours. They're able to do things that no one else can do."

In those thousands of hours of practice, the pilots around the world use a simulator. That technology was developed by Professor Marilyn Smith and her team at Georgia Tech.

"When you look at the flight test versus the simulation, it matches incredibly well," said Smith of the technology that's been years in the making. "The pilots get an incredibly real experience, and we don't have to worry about hardware failures or any safety issues while they do that."

On top of this technology helping pilots practice safely, the simulator opens the league to more than just the pros.

"Part of the Drone Racing League is we are trying to find the worlds best pilots, and not everyone can afford to have a drone and practice in a field everyday, so simulation is a great way for us to find any pilot – anyone who has a laptop and a controller really," said Gury.

The modeling technology used to make the simulator so true-to-life was originally developed to help the military and first responders carrying rescue supplies with helicopters.

The technology would test different load weights on different helicopters without the pilots having to test it out in reality – saving money and making flight safer. It is able to calculate incredibly complex physics and impacts from multiple forces on a flying body, like a drone or a helicopter, in the fraction of a second. For the drone pilots, it's like they are competing in the championship every time they practice.

"We have a lot of pride in the DRL simulator being as realistic as possible, and we have had champions come through the game through their laptop and defeat real world drone pilots," said Gury.

Opening the league to everyone is just the first step in incorporating drones even more into our daily lives.

"Drone racing is for everyone, and it's a future sport," said Gury. "That means everyone should be able to be a part of it, no matter who you are. It's truly amazing that, you know, no matter where you are in the world, you can compete together and take part in a real sport together." 

The tryouts for the next Drone Racing League championship will take place later this year.

You can check out the DRL simulator here.