Drone Racing: The Sport of the Future?
We’re pretty sure you have seen them: those tiny (or not so tiny) mosquito-like machines flying all over your house, making a strange buzzing noise and, sometimes, falling straight into your garden – usually followed by a knock on your door from your neighbour asking for it back. Or, maybe, you belong to the quadcopter aficionado club. Either way, you’re probably a teeny tiny bit curious about this whole mainstream drone racing thing that you keep seeing on every tech/gadget magazine and online news site. Well, fear no more, dear reader! Here are the answers to (most) of your questions.
So, what is drone racing exactly?
Drone racing is a high speed competitive sport in which pilots control quadcopters (or drones, as we all know them) and fly them through courses at speeds up to 120mph – avoiding all sorts of obstacles along the way – with the objective of crossing the finish line first. Racing courses tend to differ depending on the different leagues, but most are indoors and are made up of a variety of obstacles that must be navigated around.
Almost all professional drone races are done using the First Person View system. The immersive experience this provides is one of the reasons both the fan base and sponsorship opportunities have increased in drone racing over the past two years. The prices for these headsets vary depending on things like the quality of the screen but, generally, you can expect to pay anything from £20 all the way up to £500.
What’s the difference between FPV racing vs normal racing?
FPV involves flying drones equipped with special cameras that allow racers to control the drones as if they were a pilot inside the cockpit of a plane. Most pilots tend to use specialised FPV goggles that increase the panoramic view and decrease potential distractions, although there are still some pilots who prefer to use FVP monitors instead of headsets. Another key difference is that FPV races are often held indoors so the weather won’t be a disadvantage for certain drones.
Are racing drones different from normal drones?
Yes and no. One of the things to consider is that normal drones or “consumer drones” are usually used for activities such as photography, video recording or just simply for recreational purposes. Racing drones, however, remove most of these features to make them lightweight, faster and more agile. If you’ve ever tried flying a drone then you probably already know the sorts of speeds these tiny toys can reach! Regular drones can reach speeds of around 30mph, but when this is compared to the 120mph a racing drone can hit, the difference is clear.
Okay, where can I start learning to race drones?
Well, first things first: you need to buy the right type of drone and then learn how to fly it. We recommend you start with a smaller drone, a micro quad, and practice controlling and familiarising yourself with it. Drone racing is harder that it looks like, so don’t worry if you keep crashing your drone into any ceiling, tree or wall around you – it takes time to grasp the basics. After all, it’s better to crash a second-hand Ford than a Lamborghini, right?
Once you have “mastered” the art of drone flying with your mini drone, the next step is, as you might have guessed, getting even a better one! Most of the FPV drones are custom built and modified by their owners.
Can you build your own racing drone?
Once you have mastered the controls of your quadcopter, you’ll have to start looking at a bigger, faster and better one in order to improve. To be able to compete against all the other competitors in your local area (which is where you’ll need to start, the big leagues are a way off yet!) but for that you’ll need to build your own personal and ready-to-rumble racing drone. There are dozens of guides all around the internet, but we found these two to be extremely helpful for beginners looking to put together their own racing drone: The Beginner’s Guide to FPV Racing and Racing Drones Buyers Guide.
What costs are involved?
As with anything that is custom made, the prices can be as high or as low as you want. It all comes down to the quality of the materials that you use, and how skilfull you are with electronics. If for example, you buy a top of the range battery pack which can cost as much as £140, and need to enlist the help of someone to wire the electrics, you could be looking at upwards of £1000. Of course, the reverse is true if you are able to do the work yourself, and be cost-efficient on the parts you use.
But how do I become a REAL pilot and compete against others?
With a lot of patience, we would say. A great place to start would be the local FPV meetings (you can find them all over the country) where you can enjoy more relaxing but fun courses and learn from other pilots.
Even though drone racing competitions are open to everyone, you must prove your skills are up to the challenge if you want to compete with the proffessionals in the Drone Racing League. With that in mind, you should look to start with smaller events open to rookies and amateurs. If you’re 100% serious about becoming a pro drone pilot (being an astronaut is not trendy anymore, let’s be honest) the key to success is to keep practising, keep modifying your drone, take classes and join a team.
Getting impatient and want to give it a go right now? Check our Drone Flying experiences at IntoTheBlue for more information.