By KATHY WEBBER
Photos by MEGAN ROGERS
AUSTIN WRIGHT FELL VICTIM to that adrenaline rush that comes with drone racing. After watching a drone racing video on Facebook, Wright decided to open a store that focuses solely on drones and their accessories. Located at 5835 SW 21st St., aDRONEaline RACING, opened for business last November.
“I’ve been a video gamer ever since I was a little kid,” Wright said. “I just knew that it was going to be the next big thing. I dropped everything to start this and I am glad I did.”
Drone racing involves pilots racing drones equipped with cameras through an obstacle course. The pilots wear goggles that give them a first person view of the drone flight, creating the sensation of being in the cockpit. The goal of drone racing is to complete the obstacle course in the fastest time. Races are short because drones are powered by batteries that last no more than two to four minutes. The sport can be a little pricey. Racing drones can cost from $75 to $1,000 and goggles cost $40 to $500.
Drone racing began as an amateur sport in Australia in late 2014 and has spread quickly worldwide. The events are now covered by ESPN2 and NBC Sports, and pilots can win as much as $1 million in prize money.
Wright, a Topeka native, hopes to boost Topeka’s tourism by hosting drone racing events for ESPN2 and NBC Sports.
“I love my city, and Topeka could really use something new and fun that not only creates a new recreation for our community, but helps boost tourism,” Wright said.
Wright is a member of TopCity Drone Racing, directed by Topekan and YouTube drone icon, Travis Grindal. The two have teamed up and hosted 70 events from Western Kansas to Central Missouri. In July they hosted their latest and biggest drone racing event, Summer Sky Series, at Sunflower Soccer fields. Wright brought in a huge glow-in-thedark outdoor obstacle course just like the ones seen on ESPN2, and for a $50 entry fee, pilots could enter their drone to win cash prizes.
There is more to win than money at these events; winning an amateur racing event could land drone pilots the opportunity to race in a much bigger playing field.
According to NBC.com, The Drone Racing League is always looking for the greatest drone racers on earth to compete in their worldwide drone races. Most recently, The Drone Racing League hosted the DRL Allianz World Championships on ESPN where the winner could win $100,000. Sixteen racers will travel around the world and fly their drones in different venues varying from NFL stadiums to abandoned malls.
Wright hopes to introduce people to the sport of drone racing and get more people involved. An easy way to get started is with the “Build it Yourself” class aDRONEaline RACING offers once a month for $50. Here participants learn to build a $400 Quadcopter drone from a kit that costs $150, allowing participants to build a decent entry-level drone for about half the price. Accessories such as goggles, camera, batteries and charger will cost around an additional $150. Class dates can be found at www. aDRONEalineRACING.com.
“I’m trying to keep the cost down by teaching the build classes so we can create a community of pilots,” Wright said. “Once people actually experience it, they fall in love with it. I am trying to make it as affordable as I can.”
Wright would like to create aerial drone parks in Topeka where people can fly and race their drones.
“By taking the ‘build it and we will come’ approach and providing a venue for these new and exciting events to take place, we can be on the forefront of this new racing phenomenon. We can put Topeka on the map as having one of the best drone parks and facilities in the country,” Wright said.
Wright says ADRONEaline RACING is doing well even though he hasn’t spent any money on advertising. The store has done $80,000 in business since opening its doors. Wright’s goal is to one day be as big as GameStop and be located in several different cities.
“I have always been entrepreneurial minded and this is something that I knew was going to explode. In my opinion drone techs and mechanics are going to be like auto mechanics in a few years. They are going to be everywhere,” Wright said.
Drones are currently used for several different industries. They are used to help those with disabilities complete difficult tasks they are unable to complete. Food and medicine can be delivered via drones to locations that humans are unable to reach, and environmental protection agencies use drones to help capture aerial images of landscapes and wildlife without causing a disturbance.