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Drone racing: Nascar in the sky

They may have been created for the military, but drones are working their way into everyday life.

The drones are definitely coming.
© John Lund/Blend Images/Corbis

The United Arab Emirates already appeals to fans of horse racing. Now, the rich Gulf state wants to be known for a different type of spectator sport: drone racing.

Beginning Friday, 32 pilots will race in the inaugural World Drone Prix, whipping their remote-controlled aerial vehicles around a half-mile long track in Dubai, the UAE's biggest city and home to world's tallest building.

On Saturday, the field will be winnowed down to four racers, who will compete for the $1 million prize.

The UAE isn't alone in promoting drone racing as a professional sport. Earlier this year, the Drone Racing League launched its ambitious plans to become the Formula One of drone racing with a contest in Miami. Meanwhile, the US National Drone Racing Championships is now in its second year.

The rise of professional drone racing is another reminder of the way the aerial technology is starting to permeate everyday life. Once mostly limited to military use such as remote bombing and surveillance, drones are now finding their way into almost anything.

Amazon plans to use them to deliver our groceries. Farmers have deployed drones to monitor crops and livestock. Real estate agents take photos of properties from drones. Google-owner Alphabet believes so strongly that drones will play a role bringing us stuff that it applied for and received a patent for a "delivery receptacle" designed to accept packages from drones.

Sensing the emerging opportunities for high-flying tech, entrepreneurs have formed more than 330 drone-focused companies in the last five years, according to startup research firm Tracxn. During that time, drone companies have raised $1.1 billion, about 80 percent in 2015 alone.

Most of that money -- $869 million -- went to companies like Ehang and Parrot, which build consumer-use drones.

The organizers of this weekend's drone contest didn't respond to requests for comment on the race. But the curious can watch a live stream on the World Drone Prix's website.

If you're wondering why you'd ever want to watch drones racing in the first place, consider this insight from Nick Horbaczewski, the founder of the Drone Racing League.

During a race, it's not uncommon for drone pilots to "choke under pressure," he says. In other words, if you watch car racing for the crashes, drone racing might not disappoint.