PHOTOS FROM THE GROUND: FPV drone racing

Oct 21, 2016 05.18PM |
 

by Najeer Yusof

FROM remote control helicopters to aerial drones used for photography and now: Racing drones.

Locally, there are a number of drone hobbyist shops, such as RP innovations Singapore (RPiSG) and Drone Matters, that cater to drone hobbyists and also provide commercial services such as aerial photography. On weekends, local drone hobbyists take their drones to open fields to test their flying skills.

Owner of RPiSG, Mr Roy Pwee, 42, said: “The evolution from remote control helicopters to first-person view (FPV) racing drones has been a rapid one. Starting with remote control cars and helicopters 20 years ago, I became involved in drone racing since 2014. I started the business of commercialising drones here in 2006, after seeing its market potential.”

Drone racing’s popularity has been growing ever since Dubai’s World Drone Prix early this year, which saw the winner, 15-year-old Luke Bannister, bring home $250,000. FPV drone racing first began as an amateur sport in Australia. To date, FPV drone races have been held on an international scale, in the United States, and in Dubai. With these large-scale races and ESPN, an American based cable, and television sports news, airing these races live, FPV drone racing also has the potential in becoming a recognised sport.

“There are racing drones which can be bought off the shelves and also those that can be built from scratch. Customising and building your own drone allows you to choose the type of parts to use and it also allows you to fix your drone easily if it malfunctions. This is not the case for the off-the-shelf one,” said Mr Xu Zhouhua, 28, manager of Drone Matters.

As these drones are becoming more affordable, FPV drone racing is gaining more enthusiasts both overseas and locally. Here, the FPV drone racing scene has been growing since 2014.

EQUIPMENT: An analog video receiver setup beside the pilots. This receiver is used to connect with the drone's camera and obtain live footage while it is flying. The problem with analog transmitters are the interference due to anyone being able to tap on the feed just by dialing in the right frequency. This will then make flying troublesome for the pilots. There are digital video receivers available in the market, which restricts who can tap in on the feed. However, it is more costly.
EQUIPMENT: An analog video receiver setup beside the pilots. This receiver is used to connect with the drone’s camera and obtain live footage while it is flying. The problem with analog transmitters is that anyone can tap into the feed with the right frequency, creating interference. This makes flying troublesome for the pilots. There are digital video receivers available in the market, that can restrict others from tapping into the feed. However, they cost more.

 

SPARES: A drone pilot fixing his drone, on top of his tool box. The toolbox is the healing pack for drone racers. It contains spare parts to every component of the drone. Since each drone is built according to the pilot's customizations, only the pilot knows how to fix his drone and the items in each toolbox varies. However, the standard essentials tend to be props, batteries, electronic flight controllers, transmitters, spanners and screw drivers.
SPARES: A drone pilot fixing his drone, on top of his tool box. The toolbox is the “healing pack” for drone racers. It contains spare parts to every component of the drone. Since each drone is built according to the pilot’s customisations, only the pilot knows how to fix his drone and the items in each toolbox vary. However, the standard essentials tend to be props, batteries, electronic flight controllers, transmitters, spanners, and screwdrivers.

 

BUDDY SYSTEM: Drone pilots and "spotters", racing in a monthly drone race sponsored by Drone Matters, a local drone shop. Hobbyist pilots and pilots from other drone shops take part in these monthly friendly races. Each pilot is paired with a "spotter", who taps into the pilot's video feed, and watches it via their own FPV goggle. The role of the "spotter" is to monitor if the pilot has completed the obstacles in the course and to also ensure if the pilot flies safely.
BUDDY SYSTEM: Drone pilots and “spotters”, racing in a monthly drone race sponsored by Drone Matters, a local drone shop. Hobbyist pilots and pilots from other drone shops take part in these monthly friendly races. Each pilot is paired with a “spotter”, who taps into the pilot’s video feed, and watches it via their own FPV goggle. The role of the “spotter” is to monitor if the pilot has completed the obstacles in the course and to ensure that the pilot flies safely.

 

RACE TRACK: Cones and gates that are part of the drone racing course. The cones dictate the course route, while the gates and flags serve as obstacles for the pilots to maneuver through and perform turns such as the slalom, hairpin, sweeper and tight radius.
RACE TRACK: Cones and gates that are part of the drone racing course. The cones dictate the course route, while the gates and flags serve as obstacles for the pilots to manoeuvre through and perform turns such as the slalom, hairpin, sweeper and tight radius. The drones are also flown below the height of the trees, for safety purposes. The races are won based on timing and completing the obstacles in the circuit.

 

CLOSE CONTACT: Two drones flying through a gate. Flying from first-person view is a challenge of its own. The pilot has to be alert and skillful in avoiding obstacles and flying through space constraints, all while flying at an average speed between 50 to 70 km/h. It is common for them to experience crashes and let a lone close shaves, by shaving off grass blades or leave, while flying the course. The unlucky few crash into obstacles or even other drones and end up with severe damage to their drones.
CLOSE CONTACT: Two drones flying through a gate. Flying with FPV is a challenge of its own. The pilot has to be alert and skillful to avoid obstacles while flying through space constraints, at an average speed between 50 to 70 km/h. It is common for drones to crash or to have close-shaves with the track terrain like trees and tall grasses while flying the course. The unlucky few crash into obstacles or even other drones and end up with severe damage.

 

MY GOGGLE IS COOLER: A pilot wearing his first-person view (FPV) google. The pilots fly their drones using the live feed from the camera attached to their drones. Their goggles pick up the feed that is transmitted from their drones, via an antenna. Flying with the FPV goggle, creates an illusion of flying in the drone and this is one of the main attractive nature of FPV drone racing.
LIVE VIEW: Mr Zacky Abdul Razak, 36, wearing his FPV goggle. The pilots fly their drones using the live feed from the camera attached to their drones. Their goggles pick up the feed that is transmitted from their drones, via an antenna. Flying with the FPV goggle creates the perception of actual flying and this is one of the main attractions of FPV drone racing.

 

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOU LIVE VIEW: A "spotter" using a screen to tap into the live feed of a pilot. Instead of using FPV goggles, one can also use screen monitors to fly the drones or monitor other pilots' feeds.
SPOT ME: A “spotter” using a screen to tap into the live feed of a pilot. Instead of using FPV goggles, one can also use screen monitors to fly the drones or monitor other pilots’ feeds.

 

QUAD-WHAT: A quadcoptor with LED lights attached to it. Quadcopters are drones which have four propellers. The average quadcopter is made up of a frame which holds the electrical speed controller, battery, camera and transmitters. Each propeller is attached to a motor and connected to a circuit board, on the frame. The entire setup can be customised, to the preference of the pilot. Some might even include LED lights. However, the more power consuming items you have on a drone, the shorter your flight time. The average flight time tends to hover between two to three minutes.
FLYING MACHINES: A quadcopter with LED lights attached to it. Quadcopters are drones which have four propellers. The average quadcopter is made up of a frame which holds the electrical speed controller, battery, camera, and transmitters. Each propeller is attached to a motor and connected to a circuit board, on the frame. The entire setup can be customised, to the preference of the pilot. Some might even include LED lights. However, the more power-consuming items you have on a drone, the shorter your flight time. The average flight time tends to hover between two and three minutes.

 

DRONE RACING: A racing drone hovering beside Mr Lai Choon How, 45. Drone pilots control the drone based on the live feed from the drone camera's, instead of looking directly at the drone's location. This creates the perception of actual flying for the pilot. "First-person view makes you feel like you are really flying and that's exciting. it is also safe as the drone is the only one crashing," said: Mr How. The commercial photographer has spent about $7000 in total on racing drones and has participated in about 3 local competitions thus far.
IN THE PILOT SEAT: A racing drone hovering beside Mr Lai Choon How, 45. Drone pilots control the drone based on the live feed from the drone cameras, instead of looking directly at the drone’s location. This creates the perception of actual flying for the pilot. “The first-person view makes you feel like you are really flying and that’s exciting. It is also safe as the drone is the only one crashing,” said Mr Lai. The commercial photographer has spent about $7,000 in total on racing drones and has participated in about three local competitions thus far.

 

CARPARKS FLYING:Drones flying by in a multi story carpark. Pilots from Roy Ph (RPiSG), have weekly recreational flies, at a multi story carpark, at night. "I find flying in carparks more interesting as requires more skillful flying, with greater flight restrictions, such as the high and even sharper turns," said: Mr Yi Ming, 37, one of the pilots from RPiSG.
RECREATIONAL FLIGHT TIME: Drones flying by in a multistorey carpark. Drone pilots from RPiSG, meet weekly to fly their drones, at a multistorey carpark, at night. “I find flying in carparks more interesting as it requires more skillful flying, with greater flight restrictions, such as the height and even sharper turns,” said Mr Yi Ming, 37, a drone pilot from RPiSG.

 

COOL DADS: Pilots from RPiSG, flying their drones in a multistory carpark. (From left): Mr Dave Tang, 34, Mr Lai Choon How, 45, Mr Yi Ming, 37, and Mr Ryu Goh, 33 met via facebook as drone flying enthusiasts and have been flying on a weekly basis. "We are dads and have full time jobs. So can only fly at night after our children have gone to bed and this place gives us the opportunity to do so," said: Mr Tang. Mr Tang was inspired to pick up drone racing after watching youtube videos of drone racing in carparks, overseas. He posted his videos on facebook and was contacted by the others. So he gathered them and organised weekly drone flies.
PILOT DADS: Drone pilots from RPiSG, flying their drones in a multistorey carpark. (From left): Mr Ryu Goh, 34, Mr Lai, Mr Yi, and Mr Dave Tang, 33, met via Facebook as drone enthusiasts and have been flying on a weekly basis. “We are all dads and have full-time jobs. So can only fly at night after our children have gone to bed and this place gives us the opportunity to do so,” said Mr Tang. Mr Tang was inspired to pick up drone racing after watching Youtube videos of drone racing in carparks, overseas. He posted his videos on Facebook and was contacted by the others. So he gathered them and organised weekly drone meets.

 

Featured image and other images by Najeer Yusof.

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