They have been responsible for innumerable deaths in the Middle East during the last decade and, if Amazon has its way, will deliver millions of toasters, gift sets and novels in the future. But recently drones have begun to fulfil a less utilitarian kind of role: competition in the nascent world of futuristic motorsports. A confluence of technological advances has made drone racing possible. A minuscule camera, mounted on the drone’s nose, allows the pilot, as competitors are luxuriously titled, to control the vehicle through virtual reality-style goggles, as if perched in its tiny cockpit.
With powerful lithium batteries, the size of which dictates the speed class of the drone, these machines, which are typically the size of a box of tissues, can reach speeds in excess of 120mph. Studded with coloured LEDs, they fly like hyper-evolved, fluorescent mosquitoes and, thanks to their size and manoeuvrability, can make use of those areas of a sports stadium that are usually out of bounds: streaking over the pitch, for example, before grazing through a window, along a corridor and out again into the night sky. Impromptu courses can be set up anywhere. In September, during an event timed to coincide with the Paris Drone festival, pilots raced along the Champs-Élysées, watched by 150,000 spectators.