Drone racing breaks into the metaverse

Microsoft shut down its metaverse core team in February months after launching it. Disney just eliminating its metaverse team last month. Sure, some of the biggest, Fortune 500 companies are abandoning their metaverse ambitions (at least for now). But for one of the biggest players in drone racing, the metaverse is only just now getting started.

The Drone Racing League announced today that it is bringing its entire world championship season to the metaverse, which makes it the first sport to do so. As it turns out, DRL — which has hosted lavish in-person events include a drone race on the Las Vegas strip and its 2022–23 DRL Algorand World Championship Season opening night with a race at Silicon Valley’s PayPal Park — is turning to the virtual world for its season finale.

DRL will host a virtual, two-day DRL viewing party in a metaverse world developed by AI and Metaverse company, Meetkai, on Saturday, April 8, 2023 — a party that immediately follows the 3 p.m. ET broadcast of the DRL Championship Finals, which are set to air both on NBC and DRL’s social channels (Youtube, Twitter, TikTok, Twitch, Instagram and Facebook). DRL is calling it a Metaverse Marathon, and it allows fans to relive the drone racing action from all new perspectives without special equipment.

DRL drone racing metaverse
Graphic courtesy of Drone Racing League

How does a drone racing metaverse work?

A metaverse is pretty much designed as a version of the Internet where you operate with other Internet users as if you’re all in a single, universal and immersive virtual world.

The DRL Metaverse Marathon will showcase 13 levels  of real-life and esports drone racing in a digital twin of the DRL SIM video game’s MegaCity map.  The DRL SIM is available on the Epic Games store for less than $10 as other popular consoles including Xbox and Playstation. With it, you can fly virtual drones through digital versions of famous locations, like landmark palaces, NFL stadiums and iconic sports arenas.

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DRL Algorand World Champion Pilot MCKFPV. Photo courtesy of DRL.

As far as the Metaverse Marathon goes, participation is pretty easy. To join in, you’ll need only a mobile device or computer connected to the internet. From there, you can click a link to jump in as an avatar, where you can then explore the skyscraper-themed world, watch DRL through new, supposedly more-immersive views and interact with other fans and virtual versions of pilots.

Rumor has it the recently clinched-DRL Algorand World Champion Pilot MCKFPV (South Korea) among top DRL Pilots, including Hollywood drone-filmmaker Vanover (USA) and gamer-turned-pro-racer Halowalker (Germany) will all be cruising around the meta world.

Still confused? If you’re over the age of 22, maybe this just isn’t for you. DRL issued a press release citing this whole thing “the Sport from the Future dedicated to its Gen Z fanbase.” That’s basically folks born between 1997 to 2012. The older Gen Z’s lived a brief life sans iPhones, but the younger ones very likely had their first ever photo taken on one.

Could the metaverse be the next big things — in drones and beyond?

It remains to be seen if the metaverse is temporary hype or the next big thing. Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, took a big leap into the metaverse (if that rename wasn’t enough of an indicator). But by 2021, Meta made a loss of over $10 billion on its metaverse development department, and just a few months ago, founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a Facebook post announcing the company’s pivot away from the metaverse to focus on AI.

Yet as other companies pull back on the metaverse, DRL is diving in. A DRL statement said that metaverse sports are expected to grow to an $80 billion industry by 2030. DRL seems to want to be an early adopter.

“DRL is championing the next phase of digital sports through its inaugural ‘DRL Metaverse Marathon’ to become the first property to debut their entire season in the metaverse immediately following the broadcast,” according to a press statement.

In general, DRL has been an early adopter of all sorts of tech trends. In DRL’s 2021-22 season, the company first partnered with blockchain platform Algorand. Besides giving Algorand the title sponsorship (and it still does hold sponsorship), fans could finally purchase blockchain-enabled tickets, collectibles and other transactions and participate in hacakathon events.

It makes sense — FPV, drone racing, blockchain and now metaverse. The fan base all kind of goes together. DRL wants to propel it forward even more.

“You’ve seen leagues scratch the surface with games and events in the metaverse, but as the most  accessible and inclusive sport, the Drone Racing League will become the first property to stream an entire  season in the metaverse, giving our fans more access than ever and new meaning to DRL as a real-life  video game,” said DRL CMO Anne Marie Gianutsos. 

And if all else, it’s a fresh way to promo the grand finale of DRL’s 2023 season of the DRL Algorand World Championship Race. During that race, six drone pilots will race through an aerial course around loanDepot park, home to Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins in Miami.

metaverse MeetKai
An illustration provided by MeetKai of its metaverse platform.

Where does the DRL metaverse come from?

The actual metaverse was developed by a separate AI and metaverse company called MeetKai. The Los Angeles-based company has raised over $20 million in venture capital but is still relatively small with roughly 40 employees.

MeetKai makes a few different sorts of AI and metaverse-type experiences. One of MeetKai’s other software platforms geared toward fields like architecture, interior design and real estate is able to create instant 3-D replicas of a room. With just a phone, users can bring objects and spaces from the real world into the metaverse without the need for complicated scanning equipment or custom 3-D modeling.

And it has already done some sports-related work in the past — though not as extensive as the DRL event is set to be. In 2022 MeetKai partnered with the Los Angeles Chargers to provide fans with an AI-based locker room tour.

The company was founded in 2018 with a focus on conversational AI. MeetKai recently has hinted at plans to develop its own AI language system, a la ChatGPT. If you still don’t know what ChatGPT is, well, read about that time Drone Girl had ChatGPT write a Mavic Air drone review in song lyric form.

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