Whether you view it as a passive activity tantamount to toy race cars, or the troubling next step in the growth of the surveillance state, one thing is undeniable: drones are here, and it looks like they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The number of drones shipped in 2017 has hit a record high of 3 million. This number is expected to more than double by 2020, with experts predicting sales of almost 7 million. By next year, more than 600,000 drones are predicted to be taking flight for commercial purposes. Amazon has gotten into the action, using drones to one-up their own impressive same-day delivery service. And television network Viceland – still in its infancy – has partnered with General Electric for their own take on everyone’s favorite Discovery Channel tradition, Shark Week; the first season of “Droneweek” will premiere in December.
Affordable Substitutions: DRL Simulator
Still, the excitement for drone technology often hits a wall due to exorbitant prices. Some commercially available drones can fetch up to $3,000. Think that’s steep? Try a cool $32,000 for something more sophisticated. And yet, state-of-the-art drone flying simulator, the DRL Simulator, is currently available, and is about as close to the real thing as you can get to the real without spending hundreds of dollars on a high-end drone. As of now, it’s available on Steam for $19.99. However, its affordable price tag isn’t what makes it notable, rather that the simulator is a virtual drone experience that manages to mimic almost perfectly the feeling of manning one.
The DRL Simulator was designed by the Drone Racing League, the premiere high competitive league for professional drone racing, and has proven to be such a true-to-life depiction that the DRL is using the simulator to audition potential competitive drone racers for their 2018 season. Those pilots displaying the greatest ability to master the simulator will get the chance to formally compete and earn thousands of dollars.
The simulator highlights one of the more bizarre but notable elements of drone racing, which is that its virtual doppelganger is nearly identical to its real-world application—a convoluted way of saying that the simulator is so good that it’s pretty much identical to flying a drone. As a result, the DRL Simulator could go a long way in bridging the gap between those who are curious, but can’t afford the technology’s steep price tag. On top of that, they’re sensitive, and what makes them more agile and functional is precisely what makes them prone to crashes, a cost that can add up quickly.
The simulator initially teaches flyers the basics of mastering the drone, and follows it up with actual courses from the previous DRL competitive season. The top 24 players with the fastest time will compete in a tournament in February, where the winner is awarded a $75,000 contract and a chance to compete around the world in the 2018 season, with the race broadcast all over the world, on ESPN and Sky Sports.
The races help solve one of the problems that new technology brings forth: questions of accessibility. The DRL competitors aren’t racing just for love of the sport, but rather for that cool six-figure contract that allows them to race again in the next season. On top of that, new developments in drone simulation can make for a new breed of pilot, revealing dormant skills on top of helping shape new champions. As automated technology begins to disrupt the work force, those Amazon drones we mentioned earlier might be replacing your delivery man. This would allow the average Joe or Josephine to flex their muscles and get their hands dirty, all without breaking the bank, something that might be just the kind of “disruption” new tech needs.
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