EE, Qualcomm bring freestyle drone racing to Wembley Stadium

Spectator sports status beckons as the European Rotor Sports Association live streams over the EE 4G network

The European Rotor Sports Association (ERSA), an organisation set up to support the new sport of drone racing, has hosted a freestyle event at Wembley Stadium with support from EE’s 4G network.

Working with both the mobile network operator (MNO) and mobile components supplier Qualcomm, the 90,000-seat stadium was turned into an aerial raceway (including slaloms through the players’ tunnel, banked turns around corner flags, and barrel rolls above the royal box) with drone-mounted 4GEE Action Cam devices streaming the action over the network.

“This new sport is the perfect test for our superfast 4G network and Wembley Stadium provided the perfect racetrack, as well as putting these amazing drone pilots on the world’s biggest stage,” said EE brand director Spencer McHugh. 

EE has an established relationship with Wembley Stadium’s owners to use the venue as a test-bed for 4G technology.

In 2015 it teamed up with Huawei and Qualcomm to showcase a network capable of 400Mbps downloads, and the venue also plays host to its 4G+ service, which uses carrier aggregation technology to combine 20MHz of spectrum in the 1,800MHz and 2.6GHz bands to hit peak speeds of 150Mbps.

Video is vital

Video cameras come into play as a vital element of the racing, with video captured on-board the drone streamed live to the pilot’s headset, a view which under normal circumstances would only be available to the operator. 

One of the biggest issues facing the establishment of drone racing as a spectator sport is how to actually spectate.

ESRA used EE’s 4GEE Action Cam units – running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors – to stream additional footage to people watching on mobile devices and big screens.

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British champions

Besides testing network capabilities, the event also served as a chance to promote UK drone racing, and build upon the recent success of Somerset-based teenager Luke Bannister, who took home first prize (and a cool $250,000) at Dubai’s World Drone Prix event in March 2016.

ESRA engineers constructed prototype racing drones to use in the event, built around the Snapdragon Flight platform, an optimised 58x40mm board pitched specifically at consumers and drone hobbyists. Qualcomm claims its platform reduces drone weight and improves pilot response times.

“Qualcomm Technologies is applying its integration and SoC [System on Chip] expertise acquired in the mobile space to the internet of things (IoT) space, and one of the exciting growth areas is drones,” said Qualcomm EMEA senior vice-president Enrico Salvatori.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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