The Drone Racing League (DRL), which first took flight four years ago, has stuck to human-piloted drones. However, to raise the bar even higher a fully autonomous RacerAI drone had been developed which is programmed to fly itself. There were in total of 9 teams participating at an indoor course in Orlando’s Addition Financial Arena in October 2019. The teams navigated their drones around obstacles autonomously and competed against DRL’s AI drone at speeds of 90 miles per hour. The event called the Air Robotic Racing (AIRR) saw 400 entrants from which 9 teams were chosen. A team named MAVLAB, who completed the course in just 11 seconds, was crowned as champions and awarded the $1 million prize from sponsor Lockheed Martin.

AI Drone vs. Humans

The RacerAI looks like a flying fish or a bird. To ensure maximum speed and aerodynamics, it has been given the shape of an arrow-like body. This race was a groundbreaking concept in Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing as it used a simpler course that pit computer-piloted drones against each other.

“We’re here to watch as robotics evolve beyond humanity,” said Ryan Gury, DRL’s chief technology officer and designer of the league’s current racing drones. “We believe in the future of autonomous robotics” Competitions can be compelling when humans pit against machines.  IBM computers famously vanquished humans at chess and Jeopardy, and Google’s AlphaGo kicked up the difficulty level with its wins against the best players of the Go board game. When it comes to remembering date or doing math, we all know that computers beat humans. However, with expanding AI technology, the age of singularity isn’t far where AI can adapt, learn and compete with humans in almost every domain.

AI drone called RacerAI by drone racing league
RacerAI: The AI drone by DRL

RacerAI Drone Design

The RacerAI consumes 40 watts of power. It is 20 times of what our mobile processor uses. According to Gury, the RacerAI can fly only 2 to 3 minutes on one battery charge, about the same as the human-piloted racing drones. Unlike other racer drones that are shaped like an X, the RacerAI takes a plus-shaped design. The propellers on the front, left and right point downward, while the rear propeller points upward.

“Each diagonal that connects the front to the left and right propellers have a pair of fisheye cameras about 8 inches (20cm) apart. Just like human eyes, each camera can be used to see in 3D stereoscopically. With two pairs, the drone gets that 3D vision ability for the entire 180-degree view,” Gury said. 

“What we want to see is the greatest autonomous drones in the world,” siad Gury.