Drone racing is a fairly young sport that is rapidly gaining popularity all over the world.
How to find yourself on board a quadcopter flying at over 60 mph (100 km per hour)? What is the difference between a racing drone and a typical one? Does drone racing have a chance to grow into one of the most popular sports? What are Drone Racing Federations and Leagues? Answers to these and other questions are below.
Drone Racing: Simple Rules – Challenging Technologies
The concept of the new sport, for all its innovation, is quite simple: drones rush to the finish line at speeds over 100 km/h. Drones are controlled by racers using special virtual reality goggles and remote control.
In such competitions, not only maximum speed is required. It is necessary to reach the finish line first, overcoming all obstacles and flying through special checkpoints – special highlighted areas of the track. And here is where experience and skill are required of the virtual racer: you need to feel the size of the drone to squeeze it between obstacles, to correctly perform a maneuver to fit into a steep turn. It reminds me of a computer game that actually happens.
By the way, the safety of the drone itself depends on the art of piloting. Bearing in mind the speed, which can reach 145 km/h, the risk of collision is very high. Therefore, racers need a special, perfectly tuned drone controller.
Drone racing tracks are varied. They can be large empty spaces like stadiums, where nothing prevents you from racing at full speed, or, on the contrary, a specially built track with obstacles is created. Spectators and participants are separated from the track by a special protection grid from the racing copters. Video from the participants’ virtual goggles is broadcast on large screens. Thus, spectators, as well as players, can see drones flying in first person and feel what it is like to fly at speeds over 60 mph (100 km/h).
Judges, like spectators, watch the race through the participants’ video streams. As a rule, no more than four drones compete in races. Participants pass each round of the route for time. Failure to pass one of the obstacles either results in penalty points, or the participant must return and pass the obstacle in full.
A Racing Drone: Fragile & Powerful
Compared to typical drones, racing drones differ in a number of ways. First, in racing drones, there is a limitation on the size of the drone. The distance between the rotors of diametrically opposed motors must not exceed a set value. The most popular classes of drones are from 210 to 250 mm.
The number of motors is usually not regulated, but almost all pilots fly quadcopters – this is the best solution in terms of power, weight and aerodynamics. More powerful motors are installed. In this case, the flight time of racing drones is short and on average is 3-5 minutes.
The most important feature of racing drones is their lightest possible weight. In order to reduce weight, there are no safety systems, so if the drone loses contact with the pilot, it immediately shuts down, falls and can crash. So for all its power and super maneuverability, a racing drone is a fragile thing. Regular failures require prompt repair on site or quick replacement, so racers go to competitions with several drones at once.
FPV – First Person View – is used for visibility. So the racing copter is an FPV system – camera and video transmitter. The racer wears special FPV goggles, on which the on-board camera video is displayed, and drives the drone with a remote control.
Unlike racing cars, racing drones can be painted in any color. However, in the back of the drone there is a LED light that indicates to spectators who is in what position and also helps avoid collisions on the track. Usually, riders choose the color of the backlight themselves, but at some competitions competitors are forced to use the color that is determined by the organizers. For example, at the World Championships in Dubai, four drones participated in each flight: with white, green, red and blue lights.
From Amateur Racing to Professional Sport
The World Drone Prix 2016 international drone racing competition, held in Dubai, is considered the first ever world drone racing championship.
The creation of the American Drone Racing League, organized by enthusiast and entrepreneur Nick Gorbachevsky, was also a milestone event for the new sport. Since 2017, the Drone Racing League has been running a series of six professional races.
The DCL (Drone Champions League) is considered to be the largest league to date and is held in a team race format. Each team consists of four pilots, competing against each other in individual flights and in so-called big hits (4 on 4 drone flights). Teams are selected based on the principle of teams made up of the strongest pilots in the world.
A Sporting Startup for a Future Drone Operator
Drone racing has every chance to make the list of the most popular sports. First of all, such competitions are attractive because of their spectacular nature. Today videos shot through the “eyes” of drones are already breaking records for the number of views on YouTube.
Secondly, the new sport is more open to everyone than many others. Anyone can try his or her hand as a sports drone operator. Of course, like any sport, drone racing requires daily practice, but it is more democratic in terms of physical characteristics and special training.
Recent 2 years of COVID-19 restrictions have pushed the development of drone racing as a cybersport discipline, which will make the entry threshold even lower. Now, with PlayStation, XBox One and more everyone has a chance to learn and fly virtually.
In addition, drone racers are already considered to be official sportsmen, and they will be awarded sports ranks and titles.
Finally, drone racing is not only a sport, but also an opportunity to touch modern pilotless technology, which opens up a huge human resource potential for the development of this sphere. Already now drone operators are in demand in the agricalture, energy, oil and gas and other industries. The demand for such drones and specialists who can operate them, is growing.
Let’s have a look at one of the leading drone manufacturer DJI and their new generation FPV drones for professional, agricultural and enterprise use, and not only consumer use.