What is AIRR Drone Racing? Artificial Intelligence > Humans?

The field of drone racing has been around for quite some time now. However, most of the field is piloted by humans. 

Recently, more and more efforts to automate the process to innovate an A.I. piloted racing drone have been in development and AIRR Drone Racing is one of the biggest contributors to it.

So what is AIRR Drone Racing and what is the purpose of the competition? In this article, we’ll walk you through a brief guide about the competition.

What is the Purpose of AIRR Drone Racing?

AIRR stands for The Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing Circuit that is organized by Drone Racing League (DRL) as well as Lockheed Martin.

To put it in the simplest way possible, it’s an autonomous drone racing series where teams of engineers, coding developers, technologists, as well as drone scientists put all their efforts into developing an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) system that is capable of guiding a DRL drone to complete a racecourse without crashing in the shortest period of time. The DRL has additional information here...

The catch here is that the drone should have the proper A.I. coding to figure out the race and pass through the gates itself without any human intervention.

The racing drones in AIRR Drone Racing are known as “DRL RacerAI”. These extremely lightweight drones are designed with a top speed that reaches up to 70 mph, and whopping thrust power of over 20 lbs. 

The purpose of AIRR Drone Racing is to speed up the A.I. technology and innovation in future sports events, especially drone-related ones.

Drone Racing League World Championship at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona

The AIRR Drone Racing Circuit is a competition series that includes 4 races with custom-built racecourses held in 4 different cities around the United States of America.

Lockheed Martin also launched the AlphaPilor program, which is an innovative challenge to develop A.I. technology that’s capable of piloting high-speed racing done throughout the racecourse.

They even set a grand prize of $1,000,000 for the winning team the AIRR Drone Racing as well as an additional $250,000 if the winning team manages to beat a human-piloted racing drone that’s controlled by a DRL champion.

A Brief Overview of Some of the Notable AIRR Drone Racing Teams

As previously mentioned, there was a huge interest in the A.I. community and drone enthusiasts about the AIRR World Championship.

In fact, the application and screening process was a huge success for the organizing committee, as 424 teams of developers applied for the drone racing championship, representing over 2,300 individuals. 

Some of these teams were country based while others included individuals from a variety of countries, which ended up representing more than 80 countries!

After the application window closed, both Drone Racing League and Lockheed Martin went to prepare for the screening process to narrow down the applicant teams to include the best of the best!

The organizer created several programming tests as well as different trails and ended up with 9 teams representing the best A.I. innovators and programmers from all over the world. Let’s have a brief overview of these teams!

1. Team MAVLab

Kicking off the list with one of the most notable AIRR Drone Racing teams and multiple-time champions. 

Team MAVLab comes from the Netherlands and has been developing new technology in the field of aerial automation for a long time.

Although they had a rough start in the first race of the AIRR Circuit World Championship, they managed to make a substantial comeback that helped them become the Champions. But more on them later!

2. Team UZH Robotics and Perception Group

Next up we have the Swiss team UZH Robotic and Perception Group, which is one of the leading teams that already had deep experience in the field of autonomous drone racing.

In fact, they’ve already won the 2018 iROS Autonomous Drone Race in Spain, making them a huge competitor in the AIRR Circuit!

3. Team USRG @ KAIST

Team USRG @ KAIST is also a popular name in the AIRR Drone Racing Championship. The South Korean group has already managed to win several autonomous drone racing competitions.

This includes the 2016 iROS competition in Daejeon, South Korea, which was the first-ever iROS competition. Moreover, they managed to win first place in one of the AIRR Races.

4. Team RTB – Warsaw MIMotaurs

The Polish team RTB – Warsaw MIMotaurs is a group of talented developers from the University of Warsaw that specialize in autonomous drone racing competitions.

They have a huge reputation in the field, as they’ve managed to amass over $2,000,000 in prize pool since they’ve started joining competitions and championships.

5. Team KEF Robotics

Team KEF Robotics represents one of the three American teams in the AIRR Circuit Competitions. The team comes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Despite being one of the smallest teams in the competition, composed of 3 developers, they’ve managed to make their presence noticed in the race!

6. Team ICARUS

Team ICARUS is also an American team from Atlanta Georgia. Unlike KEF Robotics, they’re one of the largest teams in terms of developer number. The team is originally affiliated with projects in Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering

7. Team Puffin

Team Puffin is a multinational team that is composed of 4 members only. Two of the members are developers from the U.S. while the other two are Swedish and Australian.

8. Team XQuad

XQuad is a Brazilian team with one of the largest bases in terms of members number, including 9 developers that come from Minas Gerais.

The team is originally affiliated and sponsored by the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

9. Team Formula Drone

Last but not least, team Formula Drone comes with a catchy name and even a catchier performance for their young age!

The team also comes from the U.S. and is affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles.

A Quick Look into the 4 Previous AIRR World Championships

Now that you have a better idea about the AIRR Drone Racing Circuit, it’s time to have a quick look at the 4 races of the competition!

AIRR Race 1 

The first ever AIRR race was held on October 8th, 2019 in the Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, Florida.

Three teams were able to pass their drone through the first gate of the race. However, only team USRG @ KAIST was able to pass the drones through the second one, so they won the 

AIRR Race 2 

The second AIRR race was held on the 2nd of November, 2019 in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

In this race, 2 teams were able to pass through a single gate and 4 others managed to pass through 2 gates. Team MAVLab managed to complete the course in 35 seconds, winning the second race.

AIRR Race 3 

The third AIRR race was held on the 15th of November 2019 in the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

In the third AIRR race, 8 of the teams’ drones competing managed to pass through the first gate while only 4 managed to complete the second one. MAVLab managed to complete the course in just 12 seconds, winning the third race.

AIRR Race 4

On the 6th of December, 2019, the fourth and final race was held in the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas.

MAVLab managed to secure a crushing victory over other contestants in Austin, Texas, as they managed to finish the race and pass through the two gates in exactly 11 seconds.

This is about 25% faster than UZH Robotics and Perception Group’s RacerAI drone (2nd place). The team won a grand prize of $1,000,000 presented from Lockheed Martin.

2019 AIRR Season Overview @Lockheed Martin

How Team MAVLAB Made Their Way into Becoming The AIRR Drone Racing Champions

The latest winner of the AIRR Drone Racing Championship is team MAVLab. The developers of the team are affiliated with the Delft University of Technology.

Although the team had a rough start in the first AIRR event, having their drone barely flying off the podium and even crashing, they managed to speed up the drone’s acceleration and gate pass through time by up to 66%, all within the span of a few weeks between each of the four races!

Their DRL RacerAI consistently flew further than other drones, completing the entire racecourse throughout the rest of the Circuit!

Are These AIRR Drones Able to Beat Humans?

As previously mentioned, DRL RacerAI is a super-speed racing drone with high-end engineering. With such specs, the drone is highly capable of beating a human-piloted racing drone. 

After winning the competition, MAVLab was invited to go on a drone race against DRL Pilot Gabriel Kocher, known commonly as “Gab707”. Kocher is arguably one of the best drone racers on the planet.

The race was official and held a winner prize of $250,000 for MAVLab to beat Gab707’s drone. The two drones managed to finish the race. 

However, Gabriel’s drone still won by a margin of only 5 seconds, beating the race in just 6 seconds.

While humans are still capable of beating machines, AIRR drone racing showed the A.I’s ability to close the gap between us, so it’s extremely likely that in the next few years, we’ll witness the first AI Piloted drone that beats a human-piloted counterpart!

Final Words

With that said, you now have a complete answer that explains what AIRR Drone racing is as well as its purpose, contestants, and history!

As you can see, team MAVLab was able to make history in 2019 by innovating a brilliant A.I. technology that closed that gap between humans and machines!

Drone racing is typically done FPV, if you’re interested in getting into drone racing check out DJIs new FPV drone! It can be a great entry drone to teach you how to race. Click here

Dan Rodman

I'm a Mechanical Engineer who is passionate about the drone industry. I work as a project manager in Construction and have used drones for commercial purposes. Then, of course, it is my main hobby at home. FPV drones, custom builds, commercial drone industries, and everything else drone related is always of interest to me!

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