Marathon Drone Races

The Marathon Drone Races. A tradition that started in the late years of 2980 quickly became one of the sector's most popular sports. It pits teams of engineers, mathematicians and scientists against one another as they send a drone, capable of completely autonomous flight, around race courses, through the depths of space and against many technical challenges along the way.   The coverage of the event lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month, as there are many things that could stall a drone, as well as better technology making some drones faster than others. The longest marathon recorded lasted from the 16th of October to the 23rd of November, as a pair of the drones got stuck in a logic loop causing each of them to attempt to halt whenever they were further than 100m from eachother.   Initially developed as a crowd-pleasing sport, the Marathon Drone Races were soon taken to subsidy by the New Terran Mandate when they realized it was a perfect breeding ground for technological development. Since, the Marathon Drone Races have thrived, its contestants often being rewarded or outright hired by the NTM for developing new an intelligent designs.   Due to the NTM subsidy in the early years of the tradition, the NTM planetary territory of Oenopion in Sector 0702- Hicteon houses the first and main race course for the drones to compete in. This course takes them from the home planet to Sector 0602- Alcimede and its radioactive environment to the near barren Sector 0701- Phegeus where there is no risk of anything interfering.   Despite the race officially being funded by the NTM, none of the teams receive this money unless they receive the award for coming first in a race. Instead, teams are required to fund their own projects and do so through sponsorship and business. The most popular sponsors are the two technological giants in the sector: The Inquivis Industrial Empire, and Sub-Mertz Astroponics who sponsor the teams Calamain and Crimson Victory respectively.  

Regulations

Vessels can be of any size, but must be completely unmanned, handled only by a computer program and scripting. It can contain no virtual or artificial intelligence but may have robotic chassis aboard if desired.   Once launched, the vessel may only be contacted, communicated with or interacted with by the drone's team or race officials. Similarly, the drone may not interact with anything but the subjects of the race.   Contact between drones is strictly forbidden. This refers to weapons, hacking or any other forms of obtrusion between drones. Unintentional contact, such as bumps and scrapes can be overruled by the race judges but still runs the risk of having points deducted from the team's final score.   Any drone deemed responsible for the destruction, pacification or obstruction of another drone will be immediately disqualified.   Every piece of the ship that started the race, must come back. Thus, a craft cannot have expendable stages or deployable craft that do not return. Exceptions to this rule are: * Expendable fuel * Fuel cells (not fuel tanks) * Reactor rods * Coolant cells * Ammunition * Pieces of the ship that have been damaged or destroyed  

Qualifying

As with most races, a qualifying round is required to decide who starts first on the grid. A day is set aside for qualifying, usually a week before the event, where teams get to fly their drones around the aerial course as many times as they wish. At the end, the drones with the fastest times get to go first.  

Race Day

 

Stage One

It's a race first and formost and we decided the first events should show that. Everyone loves the classic starting grid and lap race, so we gave the people what they would've wanted.
Oler Tinnings, Chief organizer of the Marathon Drone Races (2898 - 2991)
 

The Aerial Course

The 20 lap aerial race is easily the most popular event of the season with packed seats all around. It is often also referred to as one of the loudest sports to ever exist, with the roaring of frigate engines interspersed with the pulsing whine of the fighters.   Teams, during the race, are allowed to pit their vehicle and re-upload programs and scripts in the event that something needs to be changed. Often, the smaller, more agile fighter craft are required to pit in order to refuel, which is the balancing factor that leaves the slower, less agile frigates still eligible to win.   As the contestants cross the line, their place is announced and the teams are granted points if they finished first through fifth (5 points for first place, 1 point for fifth). A signal is then sent from the control tower to the drone, which flags it to begin the next stage of the marathon.  

The Astrobatics Course

When they cross the finish line of the aerial course, the drones begin a high-powered ascent to orbit. This usually involves loud, bassy rockets that give the end of the race some brilliant fireworks.   When in orbit, the drones are picked up on film by smaller camera drones that follow them around, giving vision to the people in the stands on the planet below. Others, who may prefer seeing the astrobatics personally can view from the small orbital stations that act as stands for the viewers and race organisers.   The drones are required to pass through a gate when they reach the astrobatics course. This begins a timer that tracks how long it takes the racer to complete the course. The course is comprised of a number of hoops, pillar beacons and narrow gaps that would be a challenge even to an experienced pilot.  
Similarly to the aerial course, racers are given points depending on their position in the time trial (granted after all the drones have finished the course) as well as by how attractive their display was. Judges in the viewing stations can grant points for interesting manoeuvres, fancy piloting and near misses performed by the drones. There are no limits as to the number of points that can be granted here, but drones can only be given one point for every manoeuvre they pull.

On completion of the astrobatics course, the racers are then to head towards the edge of the system, where they will jump to the next stage.
MTD S2
--The racer drone 'Red Tide' deploys flares to score showmanship points in the astrobatics course (2994)
 

Interception

On their approach to the edge of the system, the racing drones are flagged and pursued by fighter craft equipped with weaponry that can temporarily disable the racing drones' primary power functions. This effectively halts the drone for approximately a minute while the systems restart. These weapons can only fire once before they need to be rearmed. They do so at a nearby station which takes about ten minutes plus the time it takes them to travel to the station. Any drones hit by one of these disabling shots has a point deducted from their final score, making this event one of the most crucial parts of the marathon.   The interceptor craft are always in contact with the home station, which delegates targets to the pilots to engage. Regulations state that only one interceptor can pursue a drone at any given time, when the pursuing craft fires its shot, it disengages and another can be sent to replace them. Any fighter not currently engaged is required to return to the station, and a fighter cannot be delegated to engage a drone that is currently disabled.   This is by far the most tense part of the marathon and is many people's favourite. The action of starship combat in exhilarating and is interspersed with intelligent stealth tactics performed by some of the less combat-centric drones.   Once the drones have passed a certain boundary, fighters are forbidden from firing at them. The drones are then to autonomously navigate and perform a Spike Drill to the next stage of the race.   Because of the time that Spike Drills take, the end of the first stage can be anywhere from two to six days from the start of the second. Thus these areas of the broadcast are dedicated to sponsorship advertising, interviews with race officials and comments from the race teams.

Stage Two

Spike Drills are difficult for navigators and even experienced ones can make mistakes. Failure was incredibly common in the early years of the races, with drones arriving in the system with massive swaths of the craft missing or damaged with some drones never arriving at all!
Oler Tinnings, Chief organizer of the Marathon Drone Races (2898 - 2991)
 

Search and Rescue

Hopefully in one piece, the racers immediately are sent a signal from a station in the system. This station beams data about one of the planets in the system as well as the data, pictures and last known location of a person who that drone is then timed to find, called the VIP.   Most people view this as the deciding factor of the marathon, as bad luck and poor weather could mean their search takes days instead of the expected hour or two that has come to be standard. The event is arguably the most scrutinised event in the marathon for its reliance on luck and not very sporty practises.   The coverage of this event is mostly done with some local camera drones that follow each contestant around the planet as well as each drone's on-board internal and external cameras.  

Transport and Delivery

When the individual has been found, the drone is to then pick them up and transport them as quickly as possible to an off-planet location given by the VIP. The drone is rated based on the time taken to get to the location, as well as the comfort experienced by the VIP.   When finished, the drone has an opportunity to refuel at a station near the edge of the system if it is required. Then the drone punches in the numbers and navigates to the next system.

Stage Three

When the races were being put together, it was decided that tests of speed shouldn't be everything. Some sort of ability for arithmetic prowess should be able to be displayed in the event as it is so essential to the construction of these advanced vehicles. This decision caused the third stage to be introduced.
Oler Tinnings, Chief organizer of the Marathon Drone Races (2898 - 2991)
 

Orbital Mechanics Trials

Immediately as the drones are arrive, a local station pings them with the coordinates of every planet and body in the solar system. It signals which ones are important then gives them a set of instructions:  
-Perform a close flyby and gravity assist of the system's local parent star.
The drone will be scored for the distance to the star, which is a great challenge as most of the drones suffer heating issues from housing many petabytes of processing power aboard which is already a hassle to keep cool.
-Perform a retrograde gravity assist around the system's furthest planet.
Similarly, this is judged based on proximity to the body.
-Inject and fly by the system's second furthest planet.
This event is different to the other in this system, as it is scored depending on how the manoeuvre was as a whole. Thus, if the flyby near the sun was average, the second encounter was poorly done and the third was great, their score for the third step will be average.

The twist that makes this event one of the greatest challenges of modern technology instead of just a tricky interplanetary obstacle course comes in the form of an override signal sent from the nearby station that deactivates the drone's engines a mere ten minutes after they enter the system.   Most computers with enough time could execute this manoeuvre perfectly, but with the time constraint as well as the time needed to perform the manoeuvre's burn make this timer a massive factor in the performance of the vessels involved. Often, some racers will completely miss the orbital injection they desire and lose all points for the round!   In an attempt to stop losing drones to intense heat, solar radiation and sudden impact with planet-sized objects, a rule was set in place where the drones could send an emergency signal to the nearby station, which would reactivate the drone's engines allowing it to escape the predicament that made it signal. Invoking this rule forfiets any and all points gained in the third stage of the marathon.   At the end of the marathon, teams are given extra points depending on how quickly the manoeuvre was performed (5 points for first, 4 for second etc.).

Final Stage

Most racers coming home to the final stage of the marathon do so alone, as the many delays that could impede racers along the way are likely to spread the contestant drones out quite a lot. But in the rare case where two drones arrive in-system at approximately the same time then the crowds waiting for the drones' return grow wild and competitive, waiting to see who will be the first to cross the line.

Planetfall

There are only two ways of getting score in this step of the race. One is by being one of the fastest drones to get from the system boundary to planetside, and the other is being the first through fifth drone of the race to cross the line.   Planetfall is a spectacle to behold as most of these drones are able to take forces that would kill normal men. The high speed descents creates meteor-like flames in the sky as their communications are momentarily cut off by the superheated plasma.   As they come home, each drone does a final lap around the aerial course they began with before the position of the drone and their final points score is announced. To close off the drone's activity in the marathon, each team usually has a parade (or at least, a crowd of photographers) around the drone as it is transported from the pit box to the drone's long range transport vehicle.

Points to be Scored

Stage One

Aerial Course: Astrobatics: Showmanshp: Interception:
1-5
1-5
+1 per manoeuvre
-Times Hit

Stage Two

Search/Rescue: Transport:
1-5
1-10

Stage Three

Closest Pass 1: Closest Pass 2: Overall Time:
1-5
1-5
1-5

Totals

Total Events:
Total Points:
9
40

Popular Teams

Crimson Victory

Sponsored by Sub-Mertz Astroponics , this team quickly became prominent after coming second on their first race in the 2993 annual races. Since then, they have gone to earn 12 gold medals, 17 silvers and 6 bronze and are widely reknowned as the crowd favourite with their champion drone; Red Tide.

A true underdog in their first race, Red Tide was considered only in competition of Lightning IX, the fighter hull racing drone of Listen Gate. Eyes widened, however when Red Tide won the Aerial Course by an astonishing 18 minutes. Setting a new record in the process. This time advantage slipped as Red Tide struggled to find it's VIP in stage two, and Kovie's 'Liberty' overtook them. The race ended with both drones re-entering the home planet's atmosphere simultaneously to a roaring crowd. As the drones rocketed into range of the aerial course and banked hard to take the first corner, Red Tide's aerodynamic capabilities partially failed. One of the rear winglets, damaged from the forces of re-entry, shattered. Leaving the drone crippled in the last leg of the race, allowing Liberty the victory.
Red Tide Banner

Calamain

Calamain is a subsidy of the Inquivis Industrial Empire. Being funded and sponsored by the IIE gives them the distinct advantage of having access to top-of-the-line technology to take advantage of in the races. The first few years of their career was very shaky, with many of their drones malfunctioning or being destroyed during Spike Drills. This changed when the IIE gave the team one of 7 specialized, incredibly high-tech Far Scout light freighters. After its introduction and a trial year, their new craft, dubbed 'Horizon' has won the team nothing but gold medals.

People often view Calamain as unsportsmanly. Since they are subsidized by the biggest and most advanced technological provider in the sector, they naturally have access to technology that is completely unfathomable to the other teams. Among the spectators, there are some who dont even view Horizon as even competing to begin with, and generally start their leaderboards at 2nd place.
Calamain Banner

Listen Gate

The team of Listen Gate will be the first to correct you if you pronounce their name as it is spelled. Instead they prefer 'List-en gate'.

Listen Gate are venerable among contestant teams in the marathon drone races and have been fighting from the start to earn medals. Their drone; 'Lightning' has been reconstructed so many times, that they stopped enumerating it after the drone's name in 2989. They were the first team to win the aerial and astrobatics course, but also the first drone to fail a spike jump, resulting in most of the aft section of the craft being destroyed. Thus eliminating them from the race.

Since, they've been clawing for the top spot, trying to win with speed and dexterity instead of shelling out millions of credits for the best technology possible. They, and most of their fans are advocates of the older 'bodging it' style of engineering, which is likely the reason for their drones' faults.
Listen Gate Banner

Kovie

The team of Kovie originated as a small team of officials from the rebel group Kos Vas Liberatum who entered the races as a way of attempting to propegate ill tidings between the involved governments. The issue that befell them, however is that the skill cieling and sheer difficulty of creating a drone that could even compete in the races caused the team to get far more invested in the success of their drone 'Liberty' than the original reason of their competing.

While they may be embarrassed to admit it now, the team has become a moral story as to how sports can transcend ill feelings and stop major political disputes.
Kovie Banner

Related Ethnicities

History

  When the marathon drone races rose to popularity, many people disagreed with the event's nature as a sport since there aren't any human competetors actually taking part in the proceedings. These disagreements usually end in nothing changing, as the sport's success is unquestionable.   The early years of the sport's history were filled with trouble. Of the 8 contestants in the sport's first ever full race, only 5 of the drones crossed the line. One of the drones appeared in the second stage with half of their Spike Drive missing, essentally destroying it, another approached the finish line too quickly and burned up on re-entry and the third went missing between the second and third stage only to turn up drifting through space three systems away.   Over time, however. Destruction became less and less common. Now it is viewed as a rarity, much to the dismay of some of the more bloodhungry spectators.   As with most bureacratic organisations, the race officials wanted to minimize their expendature and influence, which worked for the first few years of the sport, but was quickly revealed as a bad idea when one of the competetors; a team named 'Lucian' with their drone 'Lucia' was, throughout the event, remotely hacking into the secure networks and stations around the course and gathering as much information about anything that it could. This included some of the other drones which, when contacted, flagged the communication. This one error was responsible for the team getting caught. While their motivations were and still are unclear, the team was hastily eliminated from the competition and permanently banned from any and all proceedings in the future.   Afterwords, the rules were changed to strictly forbid any outward communication, and countermeasures were set in place to monitor the drones' actions.  

Awards

Aside from the classic trophies and medals you can win from being first, second and third in the overall rangkings, teams also earn monetary awards which come from a percentage of the event's profit on top of a flate base sum of money.   At the start of the event's history, this was a small sum designed to keep the teams on their feet and competing, but the reward grew drastically as the sport's popularity skyrocketed. now, winners of the event can be in the market for tens of millions of credits, most of which goes to the maintenance and R&D of the drones.
  • 2986

    16 /10 08:00
    2986

    10 /11 17:00

    The First Marathon Drone Race
    Sporting Event / Competition

    Consisting of only eight teams, the first marathon drone race is a spectacle only to a few thousand.

    Additional timelines
  • 2990


    The Marathon Drone Races Becomes an Annual Event
    Sporting Event / Competition

    Deciding that the show is poular enough, officials decide to now run the marathon every year, instead of at their own convenience.

    More reading
    Marathon Drone Races
    Additional timelines
  • 2992

    10 /16

    Kovie Enters the Runnings
    Sporting Event / Competition

    Intending to cause political trouble in the races, Kovie enter's their drone 'Liberty' into the race.

    More reading
    Marathon Drone Races
    Additional timelines
  • 2993

    16 /10 08:00
    2993

    8 /11 12:00

    Dawn of the Red Tide
    Sporting Event / Competition

    As the team Crimson Victory competes for the first time, their drone Red Tide wins their first race.

  • 2998

    23 /10 16:00

    Lucian is Banned from Competing
    Sporting Event / Competition

    Found to be discreetly breaking the rules, Lucian and their drone 'Lucia' is permanently removed from the competition.

    More reading
    Marathon Drone Races
    Additional timelines
  • 2999

    16 /10 08:00

    Calamain Retires Skyward
    Sporting Event / Competition

    Replacing an already very capable drone, Calamain decides it's time to test their new Far Scout freighter drone; Horizon.

    More reading
    Marathon Drone Races
    Additional timelines

Comments

Please Login in order to comment!
15 Feb, 2018 16:36

I love the sheer amount of detail put into this. The vignette is a well-used summary, and every header thereafter answers a different question I might have about your article. I'm actually sorely tempted to try to answer similar questions within my own article! I especially liked the fact that in the teams you added a bar which showed their team color, but it took me a few reads to realize that was the point. Wonderful use of a timeline!

Admin of the WA Codex & Discord

Ethnis | Ko-Fi | Twitter

16 Feb, 2018 00:54

I see your point about the banners, but there isn't a much better option to show the team colours without using a lot of space from what I can see. I'm happy that you enjoyed it though and I always like making people ask questions about their own work!

16 Feb, 2018 00:01

I'm loving all the technical detail and thought put into the rules of this sport. It felt like BattleBots without the brutal contact meets First Robotics. I particularly liked the team background section which gave some depth and history without being too overwhelming.

16 Feb, 2018 00:52

That was indeed the tone I was going for, so I enjoy that it portrayed well. Thanks for the feedback; it means a lot!

16 Feb, 2018 00:48

This is great! I love the variety and depth to this. Everything is laid out concisely, well presented, and an enjoyable read.

16 Feb, 2018 00:51

I'm glad you found it enjoyable! Honestly, the readability of such a technical document was a bit of a worry to me but I'm relieved to know it all worked out.

16 Feb, 2018 22:13

Amazing details, really great inspiration for layout!!


Creator of the dark fantasy world of Melior
I also make worldbuilding resources!
17 Feb, 2018 16:45

I suppose the formatting comes from being a bit of a graphic designer :P. I'm glad my incessant need to explain things didn't make you lose interest!