The first world champion drone racer will have quite a story for his high school classmates. Luke Bannister, the 15-year-old pilot of Tornado X-Blades Banni-UK, raised the golden trophy of the first World Drone Prix in Dubai on Saturday, earning his team $250,000 in prizes.
“Honestly, the win is still sinking in,” Bannister said. “I really enjoyed the competition especially as I got the opportunity to make friends from various countries. I am definitely looking forward to coming back next year,” He noted that he plans to split the prize money with all 43 members of his team.
More than 2,000 people turned out to watch the most high-profile race in the history of this new sport and to see which team would split the $1 million in total prizes. It came down to the Tornado X-Blades and Dubai Dronetek in the finals, but Bannister remained strong, besting the hometown team over the 12-lap course.
Drone racing has reached new heights of popularity, since drones themselves have become more popular and affordable. But the World Drone Prix marks the first major test of commerciablity: Whether people will actually watch the sport. On that level, the sport is still experiencing some growing pains. Viewers track the races through the first-person mounted cameras on the drones themselves, offering a shaky, somewhat nauseating glimpse of the race.
The Dubai authorities who hosted the event appear to feel pretty good about the results. Mohammed al-Gergawi, the United Arab Emirates’ minister for Cabinet Affairs, announced that Dubai will be hosting the first-ever World Future Sports Games in December 2017. The futuristic Olympics will feature robotic swimming, running, wrestling, car racing, and of course, drone flying.
“We are trying to bring the future closer to us,” said al-Gergawi.
So-called E-Sports earned $750 million worldwide in 2015, mostly through advertising and sponsorship. So if robotic swimming, running and wrestling seems impossible to you, check back in next year. The next generation of robots and drones may not look like anything we have today.