While the 2021 Drone Racing League season has yet to take off, fans will get a sneak peak at DRL’s latest technological advancement on August 12 at Major League Baseball’s Field of Dreams game.
In partnership with T-Mobile, DRL will debut its 5G-enabled racing drone at the game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees played on a special temporary field created near the property used in filming the Academy Award-nominated Field of Dreams (1989).
One of the first drones in the world to have an embedded 5G module capable of live streaming video directly to the internet, baseball fans will enjoy first-person views of the Field of Dreams site erected in Dyersville, Iowa.
“We’ve been bringing this incredible jaw-dropping competition and entertainment to millions of fans while we’re still storytelling as well as testing and advancing new emerging technology that can disrupt industries beyond sport and ultimately benefit the world,” said DRL president Rachel Jacobson. “We’re driven by a culture of innovation and we’re focused on making a positive impact on the world through this cutting-edge technology.”
A product of a partnership with T-Mobile announced in December 2020, this 5G-enabled racing drone can capture crisp video footage in real time through its dual first-person view (FPV) and high-definition streaming camera system complemented by a 5s lipo battery setup for extended flight time and more than 2,400 grams of thrust enabling the drone to film through mile-long courses while flying over 60 mph.
While the drone will be utilized as part of Drone Racing League’s upcoming season to create unique FPV footage, content and engagement with fans, it will also be called upon to record and stream exclusive content and footage for T-Mobile-sponsored sports and entertainment events, beginning with the Field of Dreams game. Vanover, 2019 DRL champion, is in charge of maneuvering the magenta machine among the manicured fields in Iowa.
“By leveraging the faster speeds of T-Mobile’s 5G network, sports fans will experience FPV footage from the drone in stunning clarity,” said John Saw, executive vice-president of Advanced & Emerging Technologies at T-Mobile. “With the ultra-fast speeds of 5G, large amounts of data can quickly be transferred between the action on the field and the drone, delivering it in real-time to sports fans.”
The 5G-enabled drone is the latest in a series of technological innovations developed and tested by Drone Racing League, begun in 2015 by Nicholas Horbaczewski where pilots maneuver custom-built racing drones at 90 mph via FPV through obstacle courses on both the DRL Simulator and in real life.
Drone Racing League debuted its first-ever autonomous racing drone, the DRL RacerAI, in October 2019 in partnership with Lockheed MartinLMT.
“It’s with these types of partnerships with a company like T-Mobile where we invent new technologies together, that for us, as we deeply engage our fans, is really what we set out to do,” Jacobson said. “We’re the only sports property that we’re embedding technology in literally our ‘ball’ when you think about our drones. We have the athletes like every other sport but we have the drones, and when you think about 5G and T-Mobile or other elements we build our drones, it’s a really endless opportunity when we’re speaking with technology companies that we’ve become a real-world case study and showpiece for all of their products.”
Jacobson said the 5G-enabled drone was actually completed earlier than expected as DRL and T-Mobile jumped at the opportunity to be part of MLB’s Field of Dreams game. She said more opportunities have begun trickling in as word of the new drone has spread.
While the drone will debut at the Field of Dreams later this week and is set to make its DRL debut this upcoming season, Jacobson said DRL would love to equip all of their pilots, who currently rely on analog radio transmissions for lower latency, with this technology, but the current focus is “on the immersive experience for fans and putting that content out there.”
Prioritizing the “second screen” has been a goal for many entertainment organizations and content providers as TV viewership has gotten more complex. According to Nielsen, nearly 90% of Americans were using a second digital device while watching TV by 2019. An eMarketer study found that in 2019 adults spent an average of three hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices daily, eight more minutes than watching live and taped TV.
Interest across complementary or alternative streaming/viewing experiences, social media and sports betting has helped facilitate the rise of the second screen in recent years; DRL announced a partnership with DraftKings in January.
“Like anything, people want things how they want it, where they want it, when they want it,” Jacobson said. “The fact that we have the opportunity to be able to live stream and they’re able to get this one their phones in real time, that’s what we talk about—futuristic and our sport being that new playing field and not feeling like it’s after the fact. They’re getting something no one else can get at the moment it’s happening.”