Drone Racing Up Close & Personal

Our previous post, Drone Racing, The Newest Sport in Town, introduces what drone racing, or FPV racing (first person view) is all about. However, there is nothing like knowing more about this thrilling aerial sport, up close and personal, from an avid drone racer himself; thus, The Droneologist set out to interview Albert Kelly of DroneKraft, who keenly shared his expertise and passion for the sport.

Explaining what its main features are, Kelly said drone racing is totally different from end-goal based applications, the focus of the current emerging technology: mapping for agriculture, remote inspection for industry and science, preset flight paths for photography. These are all about autonomous flight, according to him, and because these are end-goal-based applications, the copters are designed to a lot of the thinking for the pilot.

However, it’s exactly the opposite for drone racing, the only goal of which is the thrill of fast flying. For this, racing drones are built to have minimal-to-zero stability capability, which for those more used to APM or a Phantom on stability mode, this is a whole different beast, Kelly said.

“FPV racers are optimized for speed and responsiveness, not fly and forget. It’s about pilot skill and that feeling you get in the pit of your belly when you’re banking a couple feet above the ground at 50 mph past a tree or a slowpoke race competitor.”

He went on to describe drone racing as somewhere between a video game and piloting an actual aircraft; the penalty for error in a flight sim is nothing, you reset and try again. However, because of the great risk involved, Kelly said the penalty for error in an actual plane is more significant, and FPV racing is somewhere in between.
“If you crash no one is going to die (hopefully), but you could be looking at a couple hundred dollars and a weekend rebuild. Those stakes add an element of thrill and adrenaline to the experience.”

Following is the full transcript of the rest of the interview with Albert Kelly:

When exactly did this new sport start, and in which country?
The sports is in it’s infancy for sure because it requires flight controller and video transmitter technologies that are cutting edge, simply not available 5 years ago. It’s certainly blowing up around the world. One of the most-viewed FPV racing vids is from France (the one that draws comparisons to the pod racing scene in Star Wars), we see a lot of vids coming from Holland and Australia. We’ve got a race in Canada next month. And of course the US.

How many drone user groups are into drone racing? Or is there a kind of league solely focused on drone racing?
Leagues are popping up all over. fpvracing.tv is one resource we use. We’re doing an event next month hosted by Aerial Grand Prix: aerialgp.com. Groups like this are creating a structure with rules, guidelines, consistency that legitimizes events and creates best practices for others to follow.

Due to restrictions of the FAA covering height limits and public spaces where hobby drones can fly, how do drone racers manage these regulations? Are there also regulations set up by drone racers themselves?
There’s obviously a lot of gray area when it comes to FAA regulation and we predict there will be for quite a while. Some in the industry have taken the initiative to self-police, with drones that won’t arm within a certain distance of an airport for example. The primary issues are flying above populated areas, or in commercial airspace, and altitude. A good rule to follow is <400. If you stay below 400 feet, and avoid crowds and airports you’re pretty much OK. And the majority of FPV racing does.

What has inspired you to go into drone racing?
A couple of years ago, on a whim, we bought a little toy single rotor for the office. Within a week we’d bought a tiny multirotor, one of the very early ones – nothing like what Hubsan is making nowdays. Then a couple more. We had a Makerbot 3D printer and once we discovered we could start printing frames our wall was covered with quads and hexacopters with big 10-inch props and gimbals. The turning point was when we discovered FPV, which led us to the mini-class (roughly 300mm and below) optimized for the kind of speed and manuverability required for racing.

Do you foresee this sport ever getting to be a mainstream aerial sports? What could be some challenges that might ensue, such as legal issues?
We see a big future for FPV racing. It’s going to be huge. Combine emerging technologies, augmented reality and personal displays like Oculus, bad-ass robotic machines and the thrill of flight at high speed. How could it not?

Drone users come in all ages from young to old; at this point, is there a clear profile of those users venturing into racing – age, line of work, demography, etc.?
One of the biggest challenges we face is passers-by interrupting to ask “OMG what is that thing it’s so freakin’ cool.” They don’t understand when you’re wearing FPV googles you can’t just turn to them and have a conversation! And this cuts across all ages and demographics, from 10 year old kids to 80-year olds. Granted, it probably skews a bit more male than female, but we’re looking forward to discovering the first Danica Patrick of FPV racing.

What are some of the most common race drones used?
We’re admittedly biased, but we have a fondness for the Mach300. Indestructible 3mm carbon frame, full vibration isolation, adjustable camera plate and an industry-first solderless PDB. One of the more recent developments in FPV flying is the use of more powerful higher-voltage batteries. Our frame is optimized for a 4S battery, longer-range transmitters like Dragonlink, and propellors that are a bit bigger than the standard 5 and 6 inch. It’s a go-fast #bulletproof mini-monster.

So there it is, drone racing surely will continue to thrill the skies and garner more fans than ever.


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