Monday, 25/9/2017 | 6:33 UTC+0

Drone Racing League returns to ESPN with faster, more crashable aircraft

We took a spin by the headquarters of the Drone Racing League this week to check out the newest version of their custom quadcopter, the DRL 3. The league, which airs on big networks like ESPN and Sky, says it reached an audience of more than 30 million viewers during its inaugural season last year, and is set to broadcast its second season this July. To amp up the excitement, the company has created a new drone that is faster, more agile, and much harder to break.

The DRL 3 was designed around a beast of a battery. It’s five cell, 18,000 milliamp power source was custom built and provides voltage for an 85 miles per hour top speed and acceleration of zero to 80 miles per hour in under a second. Last season, the drone’s internals were exposed, making them very susceptible to damage during a crash. This season, the DRL 3 has a flexible polycarbonate frame that helps it absorb impact and continue flying.

More durable drones means DRL can be less worried about accidents. The league keeps between 300-400 of its DRL 3 units in working order at all times. Before every race, they let the pilots run through dozens of aircraft, crashing them at top speed as they try to learn the lines of the course. “At first they would get nervous and apologize, but now they don’t even worry about it,” says Ryan Gury, the company’s director of product. “After they get comfortable, that’s when they can really open up and race at their best.”

The DRL3 has also added LED lights to the belly of the drone, allowing spectators to easily see the aircraft when it’s flying away or above them.

The new design is helpful for pilots who are already in the league that want to practice. But drone racing is still a very young sport, and DRL is eager to find ways to bring more competitors in. So it’s designed a simulator that anyone can use from home. The software works on Mac and PC, and you can practice with a full-sized drone remote, or a simple Xbox or Playstation controller. In January, the league hosted a tournament for pilots with the top scores on their online leaderboards. The winner secured a $75,000 contract and a spot in this year’s IRL season, although their name remains under wraps until the launch of the pre-taped episodes this June.

While you wait, you can get a taste of the new DRL 3 drone and the crazy three dimensional race courses the league built in teaser video below.