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Drone racing is a wild and crazy ride for big money

We document the scene at the Xfinity California Drone Speed Challenge as competitive drone racers compete head-to-head for a $10,000 prize.

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Patrick Holland

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1 of 15 Josh Miller/CNET

Portrait of a drone pilot

A drone pilot's equipment is pretty simple: a headset shows a first person point-of-view video stream from their drone. The pilot uses the video stream to steer and maneuver the drone through turns and gates on the race course.

We attended the California Drone Speed Challenge at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to get some insight on what it means to be a drone pilot. 

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What a drone pilot sees

This is what a pilot sees during a race.

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3 of 15 Josh Miller/CNET

Race course

Here's part of the race course. Rope lights indicate the path. In the middle is a rectangular cage where the drone pilots sit while they compete against each other.

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Race cage

Two pilots compete head-to-head during a qualifying heat.

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The starting line

A pilot places his drone on the starting block.

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It's going for speed

A drone on its starting block ready to launch.

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The start of a drone race

The two small upright black rectangles on the bottom of the photo are the starting blocks. The blurry colorful streaks are the drones taking off at the start of a race.

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They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank

Two drones take off and race through the course.

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No tickets were issued

The only citations issued were accolades for how fast the drones were flying. The officer clocked one drone flying 103 miles-per-hour.

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DIY drones

Racer Tony Thompson readies his drone for a qualifying heat. There are few actual restrictions about the drones. For this race, propellors had to be less than 6-inches in diameter and batteries had to be under a certain power rating.

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Propellor repair

Racing drones can take quite a beating (which can be fun to watch as a spectator). But this also means pilots need to be able to quickly repair their drones between heats.

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Let there be light

All racing drones have an LED lights which makes them easier to follow as they speed through the course.

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Netting a couple of drones

Two drones hang on the safety netting that surround the pilots' pit area. You do not want to get hit by a drone going 103 miles-per-hour.

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Big money, red jacket

Pilots in the Xfinity California Drone Speed Challenge compete for part of a $10,000 prize. But they all get these sweet red jackets.

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Yep, it's fun

Did we mention that racing drones is fun? It is. For more about drone racing check out our article on how it's becoming a big sport.

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