Competitive drone racing is a thrilling, high-speed sport that is shot from a POV that is captivating viewers.
It is gaining so much momentum that ESPN has aired two seasons of the Drone Racing League (DRL), ending each season with the exciting championship. In the sport of FPV drone racing, DRL is the first professional race series.
In the DRL series, fans see pilots racing through neon-lit obstacle courses, producing visually stunning moves at crazy speeds. The Racer3 drone was introduced in April 2017 and it reaches speeds of 80mph in less than one second.
In the Drone Racing League (DRL), pilots demonstrate their skills and ingenuity with quadcopter drones. The mini drones are operated from a real-time FPV (first person view).
The pilots wear racing goggles to view the flight from the vantage point of the tiny cameras mounted on the drone. Reacting to the video feed, they steer from joysticks that resemble an Xbox controller, operating like a virtual realty video game.
FPV Drone Racer Wild Willy
DRL pilot and YouTube content creator Nick Willard races drones under the handle Wild Willy. A fourth-year aerospace engineering undergrad at Georgia Tech, Willy actively posts vlogs about mini quads and other drones topics. His “freestyle” videos demonstrate the intensity of the FPV racing mode and high speeds of the mini racing drones.
Though he aspires to explore a future in aerial photography and videography, Willy is currently a top pilot in the DRL, finishing most competitions with top rankings. As the sport grows in popularity, more fans are following paths of DRL pilots and more pilots are pursuing careers.
“I got started in DRL in July of 2016, after performing well in a couple big races around the U.S. that put me on their radar,” said Willy. In the Drone Racing League, he was a backup pilot for Level 3 in season 1 and won his debut at Level 4: The Ohio Crash Site in the 2016 season. Willy placed third in the 2016 season championship and third overall in the 2017 season.
He became inspired to try his skills at drone racing after seeing a YouTube video almost three years ago. The camera is vital part of the drone racing experience, taking onlookers and the pilot along the path of the drone with speeds up to 80mph. This FPV drone racing video has inspired a generation to embrace the sport. Published in Oct. 2014, the video now has 3,286,698 views.
To follow the adventures of Wild Willy, check him out on all these social media platforms: www.facebook.com/wildwillyfpv/, instagram.com/wildwilly_fpv/, www.airvuz.com/user/wild-willy-fpv, twitter.com/wildwilly_fpv and YouTube.
Becoming a Drone Pilot
Skilled pilots must be able to steer from a drone’s eye view, using FPV goggles to view the live transmission from the onboard camera. Fast-paced gamers with good reflexes often have a knack for this sport. “Being good on the stick is important,” said Willy.
The league is made up of people from various backgrounds, ages and experience, from engineers to those in other areas of racing. Hopefuls with natural reflexes, creativity and passion for the sport can become impressive drone racing pilots. Willy points to Joshua Bardwell for advice on flying FPV mini quads and flying a racing drone.
Potential pilots should practice skills, but should not underestimate the important of creativity in this sport. “Really, it just takes a lot of stick time to get good at flying,” said Willy. But he explains the real craft comes down to the pilot’s ability to mix piloting skills and creativity with the drone’s capability to capture unique views of environments.
The mini racing drones are built to perform at high speeds and are quite agile. Their intense power, maneuverability, small size and crazy durability make them very popular.
At those speeds, controlling the mini drones are challenging, but it gives the pilot the flexibility to perform incredible aerobatic maneuvers. Willy advises potential pilots to develop their skills via a simulator on the computer, where there is no risk of crashing and breaking things.
Developing Your Freestyle
Creative FPV pilots can produce some stunning content and memorable videos. Drone racing can take place in formal DRL competitions or in freestyle flying, using obstacles and tricks at high speeds.
“The mini racing drones that I fly give me an absolutely unique way to create content in a way that has never been done before,” said Willy. Outside of DRL, he develops his freestyle flying. “Freestyle is where we go out to parks, abandoned buildings, office parks or really anywhere and fly drones around doing flips and tricks in these cool environments,” said Willy.
During freestyle gatherings, pilots demonstrate their ability to max out the aerobatic capabilities of their drones. Willy expands on this exhilarating feeling, “It’s a very unique experience to be able to go to an abandoned building and rip through it like a bird at 60mph, or go to a park and be able to swing through the trees, or dive down the side of towering buildings only inches off the glass.”
The Future of Drone Racing
In the world of sports, will drone racing become a mainstream mania? It is hard to say, but the future is moving at super speeds in the direction of drones. These responsive, powerful, mini drones will only get faster and better.
Innovations in drone development continue to enhance the racing experience. Future improvements, such as battery technology, are bound to have a big impact on drone racing. “Right now, batteries suck. Period. They are basically extremely heavy in regards to how much energy they can store,” said Willy, “for example, a pound of gasoline has between 50-100x the amount of energy as a pound of lithium-polymer batteries.”
However, significant developments in battery developments may be far off. The next advancement in drone racing is likely to be the transition to HD digital FPV feeds.
“Right now, the video systems we use to transmit the video from the camera on the vehicle to our goggles is using old analog video technology that has many shortcomings when compared to a digital video transmission system. There have been major improvements in the digital HD video transmission area recently, but the cost of those systems needs to go down exponentially before it could be used exclusively,” said Willy.
If you have ever wanted to fly or had an interest in becoming a pilot, check out the unique world of drone racing. The experience is known to be exhilarating! Take it from DRL pilot Wild Willy, “There is seriously no other thing on Earth that can give you such freedom like the small mini quads can give you. The ability to be totally free to fly anywhere you want with such incredible precision is something that still blows my mind to this day.”
For everything related to drone racing and the world of FPV, check out this YouTube channel, UAVFUTURES and keep up with the latest in drone news on the Summit Drones Blog.