This isn’t your kid’s Christmas-present drone, floating over the backyard to snap an aerial picture of the family picnic. The Pro Aerial League is high-speed action featuring teams competing with state-of-the-art equipment and it kicks off with an event this Saturday in Everett, Wash.
Pro Aerial League is the first team-based drone racing organization in the United States. Other organizations are up and running, including the Drone Racing League, but PAL will feature indoor events and cater more intently on the spectator experience.
It starts Saturday with an inaugural event at Xfinity Arena where teams will go head to head. The six teams each include six pilots, and team names and logos look like anything you’d see out of a traditional sports league — Generals, Renegades, Aces, Air Devils, Carbon Race Team and Cyclones.
The concept for the league was born out of a December 2016 event at the CenturyLink Field Events Center in Seattle which attracted over 6,000 attendees from 21 states.
Scott Whiteker of Renton, Wash., is a co-founder and CEO of the league and he told GeekWire that PAL has signed a multi-year partnership agreement with Boise, Idaho-based Thrust-UAV to have all of team members use RIOT 250R Pro racing drones.
Whiteker said several of the league’s pilots tested the Riot drones at exhibition events and the feedback was very positive, considering that most drone racers prefer to build and race their own equipment rather than fly what’s publicly available.
“The only other racing league we are aware of that is running spec class drone racing is the Drone Racing League and they internally developed their racing drones,” Whiteker said. “Our partnership with Thrust-UAV gives them a team of highly qualified pilots to provide ongoing thoughts on their experiences and expert suggestions on future product enhancements.”
Other than watching drones zip around a hockey arena, fans will be able to engage in a number of activities on Saturday to get more bang for the $28 reserved seat ticket price. There will be virtual reality experiences, laser tag, dodgeball, Nerf Rivals, the chance to fly a drone or meet a pilot, and more.
Everett’s Brian Deller, another league co-founder, told The Herald newspaper that the racing inside Xfinity Arena is designed with the fans in mind.
“Traditionally, everyone is making the courses difficult, building it for the pilot and not for the spectators,” Deller said. “As a result people were crashing drones all the time, and it gets expensive. So we decided to flip the model. We made the courses easier, which made it easier to follow for the spectators. Then by making it multiple laps it will be more of a race.”
Saturday’s races run from noon to 7 p.m., with doors opening at 11 a.m. The Pro Aerial League season is scheduled to run through early 2018.