Competitive Drone Racing is Really a Thing

Read on ecnmag.com.

Have you ever played a video game and wished you could jump inside the screen? Like actually be the avatar you’re feverishly controlling from the other side. I’ll admit, there were times I wished I was Princess Peach. Partly because Super Mario 64 was awesome and partly because I always wanted to be rescued from a castle by a knight in shining armor (I’m still waiting for that to happen).

Drone racers apparently feel the same way (well, maybe not the castle part). Welcome first person view (FPV) racing.

FPV racing is every drone racers dream come to life. It’s basically a game of virtual reality, or feeling like a superhero for five minutes.

It’s the hot new thing in competitive drone flying, and over the past year or so, more and more pilots have started building their own racers (crafts are typically small, compact quadcopters). Technology is getting cheaper and easier, too–A pilot can get started for a few hundred dollars, and out-of-the-box racers are starting to become available.

But what makes the sport so addictive are the special goggles worn by competitors. With antennas sprouting out of the top, these bug-like wires stream video from the drones’ front-facing camera as they fly through the air. The result? An “inside-the-screen” experience, like virtual reality and video gaming brought to life.

And unlike Game of Drones, the idea here is not to take down other copters, but rather to navigate courses through the eyes of the drone. People can imagine themselves as the drone (which is why it’s so addictive) and with a little help from overlaid digital instrumentation, menus and grid lines, pilots are able to see the drone’s stabilization as it flies.

Of course, there are a lot of crashes, and the sport surprisingly requires a lot of communication with other flyers. Pilots have to coordinate which competitors are on what frequency to control their drone; they have a narrow band and if two pilots pick up the same frequency, or even ones near each other, they will cross signals and suddenly be controlling each other’s crafts.

Typical “arenas” have relatively low barriers to entry (that will only become lower as the technology advances). This obscure underground hobby, practiced mainly in dingy warehouses, is well on its way to becoming a legitimate sport. Just check out these FPV racers:

Whether FPV drone racing is headed for the big time or not is still in question but there are a number of leagues popping up around the world. Could there be a future “Drone Olympics” in our future? It’s not entirely unlikely. We may see professional arenas pop up before that happens, but it’s certainly promising for the FPV community.

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