FPV and Drones
Flying your drone with first person view (FPV) goggles is the closest you can get to being a bird. FPV incorporates the use of goggles to visually experience what the camera on your drone sees from the safety of the ground, as though you could hop in and fly the UAV yourself - but without a shrink ray or a pilot’s license.
Most camera drones utilize onboard sensors to continuously stabilize flight and keep the UAV well-balanced to prevent the drone from flipping or rolling too aggressively. Today’s drones are fast, agile, and exceptionally powerful. Flying with an FPV system can take months of practice to master, as more speed typically equals less control.
FPV flying is a rapidly growing trend in RC hobbies, and drones in particular. It’s no wonder why, as it packages the thrill and the beauty of flying into a relatively safe and affordable hobby. Setting up an FPV system even a few years ago required strong technical skills and lots of money, making the hobby only approachable for a select few. Now, there are a number of companies such as DJI and Blade that allow you to plug in and fly for around $300 for the drone and goggles together. However, the professionals craft their own drones from a variety of durable multi-rotor and weatherproof components.
Since drone flight and FPV is more approachable today than ever before, it’s no surprise that the two have united to form one of the world’s newest and most exhilarating sports - drone racing.
In 2015, the California State Fair hosted the first-ever U.S. National Drone Racing Championships. The races were initially considered risky, (How will the weather look? Will anyone show up to watch drones compete at the fair?) the event was a massive success. Over 120 pilots competed, and, ironically, the first U.S. national drone-racing competition was won by an Australian.
This June, ESPN, Sky Sports, and Prosieben MAXX will air the world’s top 16 high-speed drone pilots as they compete in an international circuit of race courses to be crowned as the 2017 DRL World Champion. DRL, a professional drone racing league, allows pilots to fly high-speed drones at iconic locations around the world. DRL has announced over $21 million in funding for this year’s event as well as earning Bud Light as the title sponsor of the 2017 Bud Light DRL Tryouts, created to find the next best FPV pilot. The champion gets a $75,000 professional contract as well as a Bud Light sponsorship.
At a drone racing event, anyone within range with compatible goggles can “tune in” to your drone’s camera. Watching the race from their favorite pilot’s point of view promises everyone in the audience front row seats to the action. The difference between being the pilot rather than a passive viewer, however, is the direct connection between visual input and the manual control of the drone. When you’re flying first person and nearly hit an obstacle, you get a spike of adrenaline as you micro-adjust to avoid crashing. Pro drone pilot Zoe Stumbaugh describes the effect of piloting her UAV while watching through FPV goggles, explaining, "You're seeing something you physically can't do, and that elevates your consciousness."
Types of Races
There are 3 major categories for drone racing:
- Time Trial - Pilots compete to get their drones through a specific course in the shortest amount of time.
- Drag Race - Pilots accelerate at top speed in a race held on a straight line over a short distance.
- Rotorcross - Pilots race through a lengthy obstacle course to reach the finish line first.
Want to give it a whirl online before taking your hand-crafted drone for a spin at 60 mph? The Drone Racing League built a free simulator for Macs, PCs, and controllers allowing new pilots to learn how to fly a racing drone, compete in DRL courses, race friends from around the globe, and try out for the 2017 DRL season.
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