Rudi Browning, a 15-year-old from Australia, bested 127 drone racers from 34 countries over the course of four days at the World Air Sports Federation’s (FAI) World Drone Racing Championship in Shenzhen, China. By doing so, he became an FAI World Champion and secured a $24,000 cash prize.
The Aussie teen won the FAI gold medal in a finale that was watched by tens of thousands of drone enthusiasts across the world. For Browning, the triumphant results are all the more affirming due to the fact that he’s envisioned this kind of success for a while.
“It feels absolutely amazing,” he said after Sunday’s race. “I dreamed of this, and it is incredible that it has come true. I couldn’t be happier. I am a very competitive person and I aim high. The goal was to win everything I could. A lot of luck comes into it, as well as skill, so everything came together and I am super happy.”
The final race was held in Shenzhen’s Universiade Sports Centre. The Chinese tech-city has arguably become a contender for de facto epicenter of the unmanned aerial vehicle industry, with the world’s leading drone manufacturer, DJI, headquartered there and this year’s World Drone Congress gracing the Shenzhen Convention Center.
Browning managed to defeat Austria’s Bastian Hackl, who won silver and came in second, and Latvia’s Karlie Gross who took home the bronze. The adrenaline-fueled tournament and subsequent win left Browning both positively shocked and grateful.
“I’m still shaking, actually,” he said. “I have had a lot of ups and downs in races, like everyone, and this is definitely one massive high. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
For those unfamiliar with competitive drone racing, anyone hoping to win will need to be nimble enough to pilot fast-paced UAVs around neon-lit courses, through hoops and gates, with sharp turns littered throughout and obstacles strewn about. For context, here's a pretty exciting recap of FAI's four-day championship event.
Pilots use first-person view goggles to see through their vehicle’s camera feed and navigate the drone as needed, as fast as they possibly can. With UAVs reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour, and Shenzhen’s 7,000 LED light-adorned course covering 650 meters, this was certainly no easy feat.
On top of that, pilots were watched and cheered on both by stadium attendees and people watching the event’s broadcast online and on TV. In other words, there’s definitely an added element of pressure in addition to the already difficult task ahead of professional drone racing. For Browning, he’s certainly proven himself as not only a victorious contender but as a champion capable of managing all of the above factors and coming out on top.