Drone Racing Speeds Over to the Western Hotel

Drones are capable of saving lives, delivering Amazon packages and more. But what the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t tell you is that they’re model citizens for a good old-fashioned heat. Drone racing isn’t anything new. This sport has inspired leagues across the country and paved the way for events such as the US National Drone Racing Championships. But it’s about time Las Vegas got in on that action, which is exactly what Downtown Project is aiming to do this weekend with the Xtreme Drone Circuit.

“It’s just as exhilarating as any computer game that I’ve ever seen, but you’re in the real world.” – Mark Rowland

The Western Hotel will act as the inaugural race’s arena where multiple LED screens will showcase the race from all angles. Drone pilots will don video goggles, similar to virtual reality headsets, to view everything from their drones’ perspective in first-person. However this avenue for pilots tracking their drones sparked conflict with the FAA in the 2014 report “Interpretation of the Special Rule for the Model Aircraft.” In this report, the FAA worried that first person goggles would obstruct too much of the pilot’s field of vision, reducing the ability to “see and avoid other aircrafts in the area.” Mark Rowland, CEO of Downtown Project’s DTP Ventures, acknowledges this concern and says they’re working on “technology that would allow drones multiple cameras and multiple views to access from the remote control.” This would free up more of the pilot’s peripheral vision.

Rowland says he’d love to see races outdoors such as on Fremont Street but the FAA has power to keep races shut in. He’s confident, however, that if Downtown Project works with the FAA, the FAA will return the favor.

“From a technology point of view, the thing that we’re most excited about is to take this from just a race to an extreme race, which is why we call ourselves XDC, the Extreme Drone Circuit,” says Rowland. “The extreme side of it will be we wanna basically turn this into Mario Kart … Just turn it into a really fun race that’s more ‘gamified.'”

Downtown Project isn’t the only company sponsoring the event. Zappos, Gold Spike and Mulitorotor Grand Prix have also extended their support. But this initial race represents a piece of a much bigger puzzle for Downtown Project.

“We see this as an event that can bring the whole community together and would be something that we can run in DTLV every month and then a big event every Quarter,” Rowland says. “We have a lot of our investments involved in the event so it will be great for everyone, and also is helping us to change people’s perception of DTLV as a place of innovation, inspiration, discovery and entrepreneurial energy.”

The CEO says Downtown Project is working with other cities in the US, Australia and the UK to put additional XDC events in motion. He is currently courting sponsors, such as GoPro and Red Bull, to get them interested in the racing trend, and to put Downtown on the map as “the place of drone racing in the West Coast.” “We’re seeing this as potentially creating a league with XDC as our brand of the league that we want to do,” says Rowland.

But could drone racing truly stack up to other professional sports? Rowland believes so. He assures drone racing will be just as exciting to the spectators as it is to the racers, and with athleticism being a non factor for becoming a pilot, it’s a sport anyone can pick up and play.

And did we mention the races are also cool as hell to watch? The drones are primed to zip through every room of the Western, some going as fast as 70 miles per hour, according to Rowland. Winners of the race can expect prizes of up to $2,500, so be generous with your pep rallying.

“It’s just as exhilarating as any computer game that I’ve ever seen, but you’re in the real world,” Rowland says. “When I was a kid it was like my dream to kind of be on Star Wars and fly a spaceship. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to that I think.”

Xtreme Drone Circuit

Free. Nov. 15, The Western Hotel, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. www.xdcracing.com

Vegas Seven