DRL’s photo of Paul Nurkkala winning the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship.
DRL’s photo of Paul Nurkkala winning the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship.

Unmanned: Drone Racing and Tech

Paul “Nurk” Nurkkala winning the 2018 DRL Allianz World Championship. Credit: DRL.
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About This Episode

On this episode of StarTalk Sports Edition, Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice take to the skies (and indoor arenas) to explore the rising sport of drone racing and drone technology. In the Drone Racing League (DRL), “skilled pilots fly quad-copter drones through three-dimensional courses at speeds up to 120mph. DRL drones are custom built for speed, agility, and performance. Pilots steer from the point of view of the drone by wearing First Person View (FPV) goggles that display a live image transmitted by an onboard camera.”

To start, we sit down with Paul “Nurk” Nurkkala, the 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion. Paul tells us how he got started in drone racing and about his journey to becoming world champion. Discover more about the Drone Racing League. What is the relationship between drone racing and Esports? Is drone racing considered an Esport since the pilots are using controllers? Is it a “regular” sport like Formula 1 or NASCAR? Or can it be both? Nurk tells us what it’s like to fly a drone firsthand and why it’s an “out of body experience.”

Investigate the inner workings of drone racing. You’ll learn what factors a racer considers when trying to build the best drone. Nurk also tells us how much practice it takes to succeed at the top level of the DRL. Neil takes us behind-the-scenes of Cosmos: Possible Worlds to explore how they used drones to film one of the largest telescopes in the world. And, find out why Nurk thinks that drones not only offer new perspectives on the world, but also on people.

Then, you’ll hear from Justin Pearce, Chief Engineer of the RQ-21 unmanned air vehicle developed at Insitu, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Boeing Company. Justin gives the specs on what separates the RQ-21 from a quad-copter. You’ll also learn how far it can fly, how fast it can go, and what it can be used for. Lastly, we discuss the implications of putting artificial intelligence into piloting unmanned aircrafts. All that, plus, we ponder, like driverless cars, how soon we will see pilotless commercial airplanes.

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In This Episode

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