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AI-powered Drone Beaten by Human Pilot in Landmark Race

Dominique Adams


Drone Racing League

A professional drone racer has taken on and beaten a speedy AI-powered drone in a race that pits human against machine. 

The victor, Swiss pro drone pilot Gabriel Kocher soared to victory beating the AI-powered drone by six seconds. The small automated drone, developed by the MavLab of the Delft University of Technology, completed the obstacle course in 12 seconds without GPS or human intervention.

The Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit is a racing series designed to pit man against machine. It is organised by the Drone Racing League (DRL), the global professional drone racing circuit for elite pilots.

This is the DRL’s first AI racing competition and is the result of a collaboration between aerospace company Lockheed Martin and crowd-sourced problem-solving platform HeroX.

According to the DRL’s website, the AIRR series allows technologists, engineers and drone enthusiasts to develop artificial intelligence to race high-speed drones through unique tracks without any human intervention.

Despite losing to Kocher, the MavLab team took home the top prize of $1 million (£0.76m) prize purse from sponsor Lockheed Martin. Had the team been able to beat Kocher they could have taken home an additional $250,000.

Federico Paredes Vallés, Guido de Croon, Christophe De Wagter, and Nilay Sheth, the members of the MavLab team, beat out five other teams to qualify for the race.


“Our team worked really hard throughout each stage to bring a robust and (most importantly) fast solution to the table,” said MVLab team.

“We are proud to have won despite the remarkable competitors that we had to face.”

Although not quite there yet, the DRL predicts that by 2023 AI-powered drones will reign supreme in the competition.

Kocher, who goes by the racing moniker Gab707, expressed relief at winning but did concede it was likely machines will soon overtake human drone pilots.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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