AI drones race for shot at $1M in South Austin

Drones raced for the shot at $1 million. The catch? You won't find any human pilots behind the controller.

“These are drones only being flown by AI programs,” said Nicholas Horbaczewski the CEO of the Drone Racing League.

Six teams went head to head, or in this case, drone to drone, in the 2019 AI Robotic Racing series taking place in South Austin.

“If you don't calculate something fast enough you crash,” said Fraser Kitchell, who is part of Team KEF Robotics and is hoping to snag the win with his team.

“This is the most complicated course of the season it's a 180-degree horseshoe,” said Kitchell.
While it may be a simple course for a human to pick up a controller and fly a drone through, for AI it’s a different story. Kitchell said they've spent countless hours the past year with trial and error, all so they can program an AI to not only fly but to also compete.

“We are fundamentally doing two things; we are teaching the robot how to move through the world, and we are teaching the robot how to perceive the world how a human might by using a camera so it can do intelligent things like in this case race through a gate,” said Kitchell.

One of the goals of this competition is to one day have an AI pilot beat a human pilot in a drone race. That day might not be in the near future, as even at the top level of competition, there can be some glitches.

“We've trained our software to operate in a specific way but its chaos every single time it's going to operate a little differently and it's going to have to respond accordingly,” said Kitchell.

While this race is mostly for entertainment, Kitchell expects the software they are developing to one day help people.