Although many games and sports have a long tradition, some new sports games that are rising in popularity didn’t even exist 10 or 20 years ago. These games are now a part of our culture because of technology and the rise of digital.
One new sport that is making headway quickly is drone racing. Sometimes referred to as First-Person View or First Person Video (FPV) Drone Racing; the sport first appeared in Australia in late 2014. It is considered a motorsport, which includes it with such sports as airplane, car and boat racing. Individuals race a radio-controlled aircraft, also known as a drone or quadcopter. The highly technical device is equipped with cameras that stream video to a person who watches it on a head-mounted display and uses the video to guide the device. The goal is to complete a pre-designed course first.
The technology used in drone racing is quite new and is constantly improving. It can also be costly for those who want to participate. For example, the head-mounted display can cost in the range of $50 to $500. There are also more expensive models that offer more and better features including wide field of view (FOV), head tracking, multiple frequency settings, and DVR (Digital Video Recording) capability.
The drones themselves come with various levels of technical sophistication and cost from about $60.00 to as much as $800. For example, Pulse, a major manufacturer headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, has drones that feature high voltage powertrains with five-cell batteries that produce 1,800-milliamps and 7,000 kg of static thrust, ultramodern flight software and hardware and covered in a stealth-like, diffused polycarbonate shell and carbon fiber mid-plate to protect it in case of a crash. Some drones are sold assembled and others require the buyer to assemble, which can be done within a few hours. You may be surprised that these gadgets are fast. In fact, the fastest drone in the world has been clocked at 179.78 mph. A drone called the TMotor can generate up to 43,000 rpm.
Top10Drone.com, an online magazine dedicated to covering the drone industry, has selected its top 10 list of the Best FPV Racing Drones for 2017. They include:
1. The DJI Mavic Pro
2. The DJI Spark Drone
3. The Walkera F210 FPV Racing Drone
4. The Eachine Racer 250 FPV Racing Drone
5. The Parrot BeBop 2 (recommended for drone racing beginners)
6. ARRIS X-Speed 250B Racing Drone
7. ARRIS C250 V2 Racing Drone
8. Walkera Rodeo 150 Devo7 Racing Drone
9. RISE Vusion 250 Racing Drone
10. SunFounder 250 FPV Racing Drone
There are also a plethora of accessories that are needed to operate racing drones. They include:
- Battery Packs
- Battery Chargers
- Carrying Cases
- Receiver Systems
- Carbon Fiber Replacement Parts
- Circuit Board
- Bumper Sets
Drone Racing Leagues
There are a number of International, national and regional Drone Racing Leagues already in existence worldwide and in the United States. The first league was formed in 2014. Domestic and international racing leagues include:
- Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Also known as the World Air Sports Federation, this organization is a world governing body for air sports, including drones. It hosts the FAI Drone Racing World Cup.
- X Class Drone Racing. This group is a North American drone racing league, which sponsors races and special events for 800mm to 1200mm drones.
- Freedom Class. This is a world drone racing league that races the largest and most powerful drones.
- MultiGP The foremost radio-controlled drone racing league, it is the official Special Interest Group of the Academy of Model Aeronautics for first person view racing. It hosts a yearly Drone Racing Championship, tournaments, free-fly gatherings, and casual events.
- Australian FPV Racing Association, Inc. An Australian-based drone racing association, it is a special interest group of the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia, which promotes the sport in Australia.
- British FPV Racing Association. The organization promotes and develops the sport in the United Kingdom.
- European Rotor Sports Association. Organizes races in Europe.
- Drone Racing League. The organization promotes drone racing pilots and creates proprietary technology to attract fans to drone racing events.
- Drone Sports Association. This group is the oldest drone racing organization in the world.
- International Drone Racing Association. An organization that focuses on pro drone racing, it sanctions and governs a multitude of drone racing events.
- FPV Racing Organisation. Headquartered in Australia, it hosts drone racing events.
- TOS FPY Racing Club. Located in China, this group hosts drone racing events including the TOS Asia Cup Shanghai and China Drone National.
- Canadian Federation for Drone Racing. A national governing organization for multi-rotor and FPV races in Canada.
- FPV Canada. Canada’s largest multi-group racing league, it has franchises in most major cities in Canada and organizes the Montreal Drone Expo, Canadian Drone Nationals, and Vancouver Drone Expo.
- Rotocross. One of Australia’s largest drone racing clubs.
- Australian FPV Racing Association, Inc. This group hosts the Drone Nationals, the DSA Worlds in Hawaii, and the FPVR Aussie Open and also holds weekly races, training and casual events for all skill levels.
- AT (Aerial Technologies) Drone Racing. An event coordinator, it holds regional events in the Midwest.
- FPV Racing League. A regional sponsor of a racing league in Louisville, Kentucky.>
- West Coast Drone Racing League. A drone racing club located in British Columbia Canada, it sponsors local professional races and league championships.
- FPV Windsor (Canada) Drone Racing League. Founded by the drone racing community in Windsor, Canada, the group is the official chapter of the FPV Canada.
The racing leagues have their own rules and regulations and may include racing classes in its organization. For example, MultiGP has five racing classes that are based on a number of specifications including:
- Battery Capacity
- Battery Voltage
- Flight Controller
- Motor Size
- Number of Motors
- Number of Propeller Blades
- Video Transmitter
The five MultiGP classes are:
- Tiny Whoop Class. The drones that race in this class are very small and light and raced in larger venues than the bigger racing drones.
- Micro Class. This class is for small, but quick drones that are raced indoors and outdoors around small obstacles. So it is considered to be ideal for backyard competitions or practice.
- 3S Class. This class is for multirotor drones that are appropriate for beginners and professionals.
- 4S Class. The drones raced in this class are for the more advanced FPV racer.
- Open Class. This class includes all available types of multirotor drones and permits all styles and configuration of aircraft with the goal of promoting new technologies and designs.
Each league has its own set of rules. However, the rules of the West Coast Drone Racing League are a good source to serve as an example for the sport as a whole.
Pilots or racers must:
- Have insurance, be a member of a national association or league, and meet the requirements of the national organization in order to compete.
- Attend a general safety briefing and sign appropriate waivers.
- Be skillful in all fail-safe procedures.
- Have an arming position switch or sequence on their radio-controller so that the drone will not power up by accident.
Pilots are allowed to request a reschedule of a heat if they experience technical problems or for loss of video or other occurrences that are beyond his control.
Pilots can be disqualified for a number of actions including:
- Not being present on the flight line ready to race at the time of their scheduled heat.
- Missing a gate, flag or obstacle.
- Flying out of bounds.
- Unsportsman like conduct.
The organizing staff, the site of the race, participants and sponsors must have the appropriate insurance.
A team of judges monitors all races with the responsibility of ensuring that all general rules and regulations are followed. Cameras, timing/lap systems and marshals assure that the races are performed fairly and that race results are accurate. If a drone is involved in a crash, it can resume the race if it can take off without any assistance.
Racing Competition Format
Drone racing events are formatted similar to sprint car racing events. Pilots or racers are permitted to practice at a designated field before a race and such races can be timed and may be used for qualifier seedlings. Competitors are expected to race in one or more rounds of qualifiers. The pilot with the best single lap time or best complete time is assigned seeding or advancement into later rounds. Top qualifiers move on to one or more rounds of main heats with best complete race time, finishing order or a point-based program based on finish determines the order of racers who advance to the finals. Pilots who finish with the best race time, finishing order or a point-based system with points awarded based on finishing order advances to Finals A and B.
Race Course Layout
Course boundaries are within an established format such as a football or soccer field. A buffer zone must exist a minimum of 10 meters from spectators or buildings. Design of the corners of the course must take into account flight and energy direction of the drone. The flight path should not require 100 percent of the energy force of the drone as it flies directly toward the spectators. The course should take into account possible accidents, yaw spinout or other types of impacts that cause the drone to alter its flight direction. Spectator areas must be protected with tensile weave netting and must include a 1 meter buffer on each side of the stands for impact recovery.
Rules of Engagement
Because of the number of drones that may participate in a race, terms of engagement is regulated. These regulations call for the pilot to:
- Keep his drone within a specific flight path.
- Keep his drone in the disarm state prior to the start of a race and arm it when the race director or venue announcer gives the order.
- Follow the pre-determined launch sequence.
- Maintain control of his drone at all times and compete in races that match his skill set.
- Return his drone to the start/finish pad, land and disarm it after it has successfully completed all laps.
- Successfully fly through all gates or around flags and other obstacles on the course. A pilot who misses an obstacle is permitted to safely turn around and attempt to encounter the obstacle up to two times. If he still fails to successfully encounter the obstacle, then he is disqualified.
- Fly his drone no higher than 15 meters over the race site. Any violation of the ceiling or if the drone flies out of bounds at any time during the race, the pilot is disqualified and must immediately land his drone on a safe portion of the field.
- Attempt a safe landing if he loses control of or flies into a catch zone net, lose throttle, or perform a fail-safe procedure in a safe area.
- Immediately land the drone by line of sight if he loses video streaming from the drone.
Only in its third year, drone racing leagues have had a difficult time funding events. For example, funds from the state of California and ticket sales at the event itself paid for races at the California State Fair. Drone racing events initially had difficulty finding adequate venues that would present a challenge for pilots. However, the 2016 World Drone Prix in Dubai was the first race to offer $1 million to the winners and the Drone Racing League’s Allianz World Championship held on June 20, 2017 and televised by ESPN paid a prize of $100,000 to the winner.
The Drone Racing League has offered a full slate of races this summer. The Boston semi-finals and finals were held at the Boston Foundry, the Munich Playoffs were held in Germany, and the DRL World Championship in London in July. In addition, the DRL Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, Louisiana and more races at the Boston Foundry are scheduled for August. The group also plans to run 16 races in venues around the world including in NFL stadiums and abandoned malls.
According to a study performed by Price Waterhouse Cooper, an auditing and business analysis firm with corporate headquarters in New York City and 79 other offices spread out throughout the United States, the market for business services using drones is already valued at more than $127 billion.