The History of Drone Racing

In modern times robots, artificial intelligence, drones and such machines are becoming more commonly used in every sphere. Robots for medical purposes, robots for defense purposes, household robots, automated cars - they are useful everywhere. Science however, is not the only area where this technology is gaining popularity. Drones have become mainstream over the past few years. Drone flying is a hobby and source of entertainment for many; everyday people use them to take aerial shots of holidays, architecture, activities, sports, etc. During late 2013 in Australia, a new sport was born where drone pilots race against each other on a track – the creators called it rotocross (from Motocross). Today, it’s called FPV (first person view) drone racing and it has spread globally. There are several worldwide events, some with high profile sponsors like GoPro, AIG, Allianz and Vodafone – it is truly a sport of modern times!

What is drone racing?

Drone racing is a new type of motorsport mostly popular with men ages 15 - 45. Pilots compete against each other on a track and the winner is determined by completing the race in the fastest time. The track consists of certain checkpoints and gates that the pilots must fly through to properly complete the course. Following are the different categories in drone racing:

  • Time-trial: common style, drones fly alone, the pilot who completes the course with the fastest time wins
  • Drag race: two or more drones racing at the same time on a straight 100m track. Acceleration is the most important factor.
  • Rotorcross: same as time-trial, but multiple drones are racing on the track at the same time.

What does a race look like? Participants sit next to each other in their stationary cockpits - RC controller in hand and goggles secured. Each drone (team) has a designated LED colour so the spectators can identify them with ease. With a set starting & finish line, the track is a three-dimensional course and drones are required to fly up, down, around and through various checkpoints, obstacles, tunnels and gates. During a race, drones can reach speeds up 140 km/h with acceleration from 0-100 km/h in 1.8 seconds. With high speeds and challenging tracks, crashes are common!

WHAT IS A RACING DRONE?

A racing drone is technically a “quadcopter” which is an aircraft with four motors and four propellers. FPV racing drones are completely different than camera drones. Racing drones made to be agile and maneuver easily, while camera drones fly low and slow to capture the best image. Pilots fly their drones through various types of tracks using an RC controller and FPV goggles. The drones are equipped with cameras (different than camera drones) through which the view from the drone is transmitted to the pilot’s FPV goggles. The copters are controlled with two joysticks on the RC controller – the best pilots have a steady hand and lightning quick reflexes. An RTF (ready to fly) racing drone is the best option for beginning pilots. The only pre-flight maintenance required is opening the box and inserting the batteries. An RTF racing drone includes the following components:

  • 4 motors
  • Air frame
  • Electronic Speed Controller (controls the motor to achieve desired RPM level)
  • Camera
  • Camera transmission equipment
  • RC receiver (usually works on 2.4 Ghz or 5.8 GHz)
  • Propellers: There are two options for propeller. With 5 inch props, there is less chance of losing control, more agility, higher top speed. With 6 inch props, faster acceleration is possible and the drone can lift more weight however, the RPM is lower than with 5 inch props. Which should you use? It depends on the drone racing track. Every racer use different propeller sizes on different tracks.
  • Batteries (Lithium polymer, a 3000 mAh battery performs well for racing drones)
  • HD camera for recording is optional

To fly the quadcopter, each pilot needs

  • RC controller
  • Goggles for FPV drone racing

DCL 2017 racing drone specs:

  • 700g minimum weight
  • 40 LEDs
  • Standard LED Driver (provided by DCL)
  • Connex Prosight
  • GoPro Session (provided by DCL)
  • At least 3 copters per pilot at the beginning of the contest
  • 2 copters per pilot must be ready to fly before each heat

WHO ARE THE DRONE RACERS?

Drone racing does not discriminate, anyone from any walk of life is a potential champion pilot. Age, background, size, ethnicity, and gender are all non-factors to become a drone racer. As the cost of a racing drone is relatively inexpensive compared to other motorsports, there is nothing holding a pilot back. Pilots competing in the DCL represent the spectrum of pilots in the FPV community. Racers come from all over the world and have competed in various drone competitions over the past few years. Drone racing is becoming more and more popular in Europe and skilled pilots are competing against challengers from North & South America and Asia. BanniUK, the 17-year-young DCL pilot from the UK, has already won over €300,000 competing in various races. In the last DCL event of 2016 in Salina Turda, Romania, pilots competed from the UK, Czech Republic (Jan Mittner) and Korea (Min Cham Kim).

HOW DOES THE DCL RACING FORMAT WORK?

We have revised our racing format to better suit the fans, pilots and teams – more excitement, more exposure, more strategy, and more energy. Qualification races consist of time-trials where a team’s collective result determines where it will be placed for the final rounds. During the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, two teams of four pilots compete in 3 heats. The first and second heats are called “single heat” as each race is 1 vs. 1. The winner gets 1 point for his team. Heat 3, or the “big heat”, is 4 vs. 4 where all 4 team pilots are flying. The winning team gets 1 point, a bonus of 2 points is given if 3 pilots from the same team finish in the top 3 positions. The team with the most points through 3 heats moves onto the next round. During Final round, there are 5 heats. Each pilot from each team competes in a “single heat” (total of 4 single heats) and the final heat is again a “big heat”.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE IN DCL?

Simply register on the "Join Now" page on the DCL website to apply for the following participation options:

  1. DCL Wildcard entry. Be sure to check the DCL Wildcard Entry box when you register on the Pilot Sign-Up page.
  2. A team chooses you to fly for their team
  3. Starting in 2018, pilots will have the possibility to qualify for participation through the DCL computer game

DCL will contact you if you are selected to participate as a Wildcard during the DCL Season or if you are selected to fly for one of the DCL teams.

Technical requirements to join a team:

  • Racing drone must be equipped with TBS crossfire transmitting module
  • Aircraft should weigh a minimum of 700g (GoPro camera included in the 700g total weight)

Typically, teams cover all costs. As a wildcard entry, all technical requirements and equipment are mandatory, but there is no entry fee.

HOW DO I START FLYING A RACING DRONE?

Flying a drone can be frustrating at first, it requires practice and patience. Even the best pilots crash and make mistakes, but don’t give up! Following are some basic steps for first-time drone pilots.

  1. Buy a drone. The price of racing drones start at $100 and go up to $500. As a first-time racer, opting with a cheaper model is a good idea as crashes are inevitable. See blog post “Best Racing Drones for Beginners” for more information.
  2. Put the drone on the ground, facing away from you.
  3. Put the RC controller is in your hands. Don't wear your goggles until you’ve become familiar with flying.
  4. Hover up, and try to manage the throttle using up & down on the controller.
  5. Once comfortably hovering 1 meter above ground, roll with left & right control sticks, and yawn with the yawning tilt, but not more than 90 degrees.
  6. The camera should always be pointing forward. It is important to have a camera on your drone that can record with at least 60 fps.
  7. If you are confidently maneuvering with steady hands, put on the goggles.
  8. Lastly, there are plenty of tutorial videos online. Watch, learn and practice to improve your flying skills!

BEST RACING DRONES FOR BEGINNERS

Depending on the pilot’s budget and expertise, there are several options for those interested in entering the drone racing arena. An important factor to consider purchasing a drone to race is that a drone with wifi is not suitable for drone racing. With wifi, there is a 300ms delay, too much to control the drone properly during a high-speed race.

  • Hubsan X4 h207D FPV : starter mini-drone, inexpensive.
  • Vortex 250 PRO: suitable for professional events, inexpensive.
  • Luminiere QAV250 G10: high performance racing drone, only for pros.
  • Storm Type A: 250 mm class drone, cheap.
  • Blade Mach 25: cost $300, and FPV headset not included
  • Arris FPV250: good option, but not contains everything you'll need
  • Micro FPV Quad Kit: beginner setup
  • Blade Nano QX RTF: good choice for practicing
  • FPV Quad Bundle Kit: professional setup.

These are only some options, you can find a wide market from drones and drone parts.

To acquire the perfect drone for a specific flying style, many pilots choose to build their own RTF racing drone. In the following list, following is a list of parts to purchase for drone construction:

Frames:

  • ZMR250 Carbon Fiber Version
  • Lumenier QAV250
  • LumenierQAV-X Charpu
  • Blackout Mini-H Quad
  • Hammer V3

Flight Controller:

  • Naze32 Acro
  • OpenPilot CC3D

Motors (manufecturers):

  • Cobra
  • EMax
  • DYS

A motor’s performance is measured in Kv (1000 RPM per volt) and motor selection is dependent on the weight of the drone. The lighter the drone, the higher the Kv. The heavier the drone, the lower the Kv.

Quad Propellers

  • HQProp
  • Gemfan

ESCs

  • KISS
  • DYS/RCtimer BL20a
  • EMAX 12A Simon Series
  • ZTW Flash 30A BLHeli S
  • HobbyKing Blue Series

LiPo Battery

  • Turnigy Nano-tech
  • SMC True Spec 1300mAh 4S 37A
  • Tattu 1800mah 4s

RC Transmitter/Receiver

  • FrSky Taranis X9D 2.4GHz
  • FrSky X4R 2.4GHz

HD Camera

  • Mobius ActionCam
  • XiaoMi Yi
  • GoPro HERO

Video Transmitter

  • ImmersionRC 600mW 5.8GHz
  • LaForge vTX FPV
  • TBS Unify
  • Boscam 200mW 5.8GHz
  • ImmersionRC 25mW 5.8GHz

FPV Camera

  • Fatshark 600TVL CMOS Camera
  • RunCam Swift V2

FPV Goggles

  • Fatshark v3 HD FPV Goggles
  • FatShark Dominator V2
  • Cinemizer OLED Video Glasses

Parts for drone construction are available in the following online shops:

  • Conrad.de
  • Amazon.com
  • HobbyTron.com
  • HobbyKing.com
  • Helipal.com