Drone Racing: The Beginner’s Guide
While many people are interested in taking pictures and videos with their Phantom or Solo quadcopters, there is another community of pilots using drones for an entirely different reason: racing. Or, to be more exact “drone racing.” While drone racing is still in its very early stages, many are looking to take drone racing to the next level. People are beginning to embrace it as the sport of the future.
We realize that most people still are pretty unaware of drone racing and all that is involved with this new obsession. As a casual observer of the drone world, you may have heard a little bit about drone racing, or maybe you haven’t heard of drone racing at all. We think it’s pretty cool, so we thought we would do a series on drone racing to give you the lay of the land. Maybe by the end this article you’ll see why drone racing is getting so big.
There is a lot of ground to cover for getting up to speed with drone racing , so it’s not possible to do in one post. That is why we are going to do a series of posts to help you get started. But for today, we thought we’d answer a few preliminary questions to get you started.
What kind of drone do I need?
Just like how race-car drivers build their own customized vehicles for better performance to outdo the competition, drone racers go through the same process. You won’t find pilots racing the exact same Phantom on the drone racing course. No, no, no. Drone racing is much more involved than that.
Drone racers usually put together their own custom rigs using drone kits specially designed for racing. The body of these vehicles are lightweight and can vary in shape, composite, and size. Then there is everything to consider choosing from ESCs (Electronic Speed Controllers) to picking your desired autopilot so that you can actually control the drone once it’s in the air. (More on building your own custom drone racing rig in posts to come).
I don’t have any experience building drones… can I still get involved? How do I build a racing drone?
If you are worried about not having any experience building drones or don’t think you can build your own, don’t worry! It’s really not that hard. There are tons of vehicle kits out there that make building a racing drone as simple as putting together a big Lego set. Granted, building a racing drone can get much more complex and intricate than “putting together a big Lego set,” but by using these pre-assembled kits you get a great launching point into the world of drone racing. As you get more involved, you can expand as your interest does and get as involved as you want.
Even though half the fun of drone racing is building your own drone to dominate the competition, there are other options to get involved right away without all the “hassle.” What’s that old saying? Money solves everything? Something like that. Long story short, or drone building mad short, you can simply buy your own drone racing rig that is ready-to-fly. There are many options like those seen on Amazon here and here.
What are some essentials that my racing drone will need?
Now although we could go much more in depth on this subject, we can cover a few of the basics pretty quickly.
FPV (First Person View) system: in order to race a drone, you need to be able to see where you’re going! FPV systems take the footage from the camera on your drone and stream it right back to your mobile device so you can see what is happening. You can also set up an Oculus headset so you can be immersed right into the action.
RC control: this allows you to… now get this, control your drone! This can be done by an autopilot (Pixhawk, Naza, etc.) which can handle a bunch of different things (power distribution, telemetry communication, etc.).
Vehicle body: this is a lightweight body where all the devices that make your drone fly will be mounted to.
Where should I race?
Okay, quick note about safety here, but needless to say that drone racing can be dangerous. You are flying these things as fast as you can and will inevitably run into something (another drone you’re racing with, trees, the ground, the list is endless). With that being said, you should NEVER fly around people. If there’s even the slightest chance a person could wander into the path of your racing course, find a new place to fly. If something did go wrong and you ended up hurting someone, you could find yourself in jail pretty quickly. We know most of you could have already guessed that, but not a bad idea to reiterate the dangerous possibilities there.
Phew, sorry for going mom mode on you guys, but now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about where you can race. As long as you have permission to be/fly there, there’s no people around, and there’s nothing you can seriously damage (cars, windows, etc.), you can basically make anything you want a course! Maybe you have access to an abandoned warehouse? Great, use it! The course is limited to what your imagination can come up with. Sparse forests can also make great courses because of how spacious they are. Trees won’t be harmed by your racing and they make perfect obstacle markers.
The great thing about drone racing as opposed to normal car racing is that you don’t only have 2 dimensions to work with, but all 3! Let your imagination run wild and think of things you can fly over, fly through, fly around! All of it! This sport is still in the very early stages of development so the beauty is that if you can think it and you can race it then it’s probably a race track!
Are there any professional leagues out there?
Like we were saying at the beginning of this article, this is sport/hobby is still in the very early stages of development. However, racing leagues are beginning to pop up here and there. Check this list below to see if there are any in your area.
- The DRL (http://thedroneracingleague.com/)