The Future of Drone Racing: The AlphaPilot Challenge
We are Formula Drone, your friendly neighborhood drone racing club, and we are competing in the biggest AI drone racing challenge ever, Alphapilot. This competition, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Nvidia, and the Drone Racing League (DRL), has a grand prize of $1,000,000.00 and brings in teams from all walks of life to develop an AI that can fly a drone through a race course as fast as possible.
It all started earlier this year when we participated in the AlphaPilot Online Qualifier, mostly for fun and to learn about drones. But, lo and behold, a few months later, Formula Drone found itself as one of the nine finalist teams that qualified to compete in the first ever AI Robotic Racing (AIRR) League!
The truth is, when we started competing in the AlphaPilot Qualifiers, we were up against 400+ other teams from around the world, and we didn’t expect to make it past the qualifiers, so we didn’t put much focus on raising money at the time. However, now that we are one of the nine finalist teams, we are contractually obligated to attend the workshop and race events, and while we don’t necessarily need to send all 10 team members to every event, we want to send as many as we can!
With your help, we hope to raise at least $5000 to send our team to the AIRR League races. The more support we get, the more team members we can send! No donation is too small! That $5 could be the cup of coffee that helps us edge out the competition in the championship race!
The AI Robotic Racing (AIRR) League
The AIRR League is the first ever autonomous drone racing circuit created by DRL for the AlphaPilot Challenge. The 2019 AIRR League comprises of a pre-season training workshop, 2 regular season races for each team and 1 championship race for the top six teams during the regular season.
The regular season events that we are attending will take place across the continental USA. If we can raise $5000, this will cover the cost of sending at least 1 or 2 people to every event! The costs of each event include: plane tickets (~$200-500/person), ground transportation (~$50), lodging (~$150-$300), and meals (~$50/person). Depending on when and where the events are taking place, the prices of plane tickets and lodging will vary, so we will plan ahead to make sure we get the most out of what we have.
Drone Racing: A Game of Drones
At this point, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is drone racing? Well, a little over a decade ago, someone realized they could put a camera on the front of their radio controlled quadcopter (aka drone), then beam that footage back to a headset, creating what is known today as First Person View, or FPV. When you’re flying FPV, it feels like you’re sitting in the cockpit of your very own drone, and it wasn’t long before people started racing each other in FPV.
Today, FPV drone racing (with human pilots) is a growing industry that brings in sponsors from all over the world, and combines aspects of engineering, video games, and competitive racing! However, autonomous (aka AI) drone racing has always been a much more niche sport, and has been traditionally relegated to small, one-off events at robotics conferences -- until now!
The Bigger Picture
At the end of the day, this competition is about getting drones to fly (by themselves!) in circles pretty fast, and your donations to this cause are propelling the future of this sort of technology. The cool thing about autonomous systems like AI-powered drones is that they can go places where humans can’t, or don’t want to go. For example, autonomous drones could help with search and rescue missions thanks to their high vantage point; disaster relief thanks to their small size and expendability; and even space exploration because they don’t need to breathe! Furthermore, the subsystems developed for AI drones can definitely be applied to other problems as well, like self driving cars, delivery robots, and more! Your donations are helping UCLA students take the world into an exciting future, where AI and drones can help make the world a better place!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Drone Racing Club
Outside of AlphaPilot, Formula Drone has a mission of making the emerging sport of (human-piloted) First Person View (FPV) drone racing more accessible to college students. By educating members on drone safety, design, assembly, and piloting, Formula Drone at UCLA provides a platform for everyone from novices to experts to develop new skills and interact with fellow drone enthusiasts. Furthermore, members will have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culture of competitive drone racing by participating in exciting intercollegiate races!