Drones

Australian pilot clean sweeps first international drone racing competition

Australian pilot clean sweeps ...
The California State Fair played host to the US Drone Racing National Championship
The California State Fair played host to the US Drone Racing National Championship
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A practice session ahead of the US Drone Racing National Championship
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A practice session ahead of the US Drone Racing National Championship
A practise session ahead of the US Drone Racing National Championship
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A practise session ahead of the US Drone Racing National Championship
The California State Fair played host to the US Drone Racing National Championship
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The California State Fair played host to the US Drone Racing National Championship
A layout of the drone racing course at the US National Championship
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A layout of the drone racing course at the US National Championship
We're going to see more events like the US Drone Racing National Championship as the sport moves through its formative stages
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We're going to see more events like the US Drone Racing National Championship as the sport moves through its formative stages

The California State Fair played host to an unconventional but increasingly popular type of sporting event last week. The first international drone racing contest invited budding pilots from all around the globe to battle it out for the inaugural US National Championship and a slice of US$25,000 in cash prizes.

The sport of drone racing is still largely unknown, but tight-knit communities of dedicated enthusiasts are popping up around the world with amateur leagues forming in France, England, the US and Australia. Pilots typically fly custom-built quadcopters through warehouses, empty shopping mall carparks or remote outdoor locations, some as fast as 100 mph (160 km/h).

Sounds like fun, right? Well according to those behind the joysticks, what really gives drone racing its edge are the sets of first person view goggles used to tune into video stream coming from the aircraft's front-facing cameras. So rather than controlling the drone by eye, racers see only what the drones see as they zip through trees, pylons and other obstacles, creating a highly addictive sense of immersion.

But a hobby that was once limited to derelict buildings and clandestine meet ups is now becoming a legitimate sport. Australia's Chad Nowak was flown over to compete in the US courtesy of his sponsor, Immersion RC. When we spoke to him at a drone race in Melbourne last month, he had pretty modest expectations about how he would fare among the sport's elite. But now that the event has been and gone, he will return to his native land with not one but three titles to his name.

A total of 100 pilots took part across three separate events. An individual time trial, a team time trial and a freestyle stunt competition where pilots perform barrel rolls and other maneuvers to impress the judges. Nowak was able to negotiate the course's gates and obstacles more than two minutes ahead of his nearest rival in the individual time trial. He came out a winner in the team time trial as part of Team Immersion, and his exploits in the freestyle event saw him claim first prize there, too.

We are going to see different types of drone racing events as the sport moves through its formative stages, and whatever shape they take we're sure its newly crowned champion won't be too far from the action.

Source: US Drone Nationals

7 comments
Paul Anthony
This is an exciting sport. Is like to hear what the winners equipment is like, perhaps a comparison between win place and show. I imagine at this stage one needs piloting skills, but more Important, high performance hardware and electronics.
Bob Flint
Putting a monkey behind the controls of a system that could outperform if left to it's own choosing. Seems like programing has reached a limit by keeping the humanoid in control and inevitably limiting it's performance. Why, so they can sell more hardware of course.
ChrisSlowik
Bob, you could say the same thing about auto racing. No one cares if a computer could do it better. The human factor is what makes it exciting, interesting, compelling, and dramatic. As with other racing events, it definitely did so at the drone nationals. I feel bad for you - apparently you have never felt the rush of a race event. Paul, you might be surprised to find there's not a HUGE difference between the craft. The winning quad had a great thrust-to-weight ratio, and thin frame so it cut through the air easily. Beyond that it was all pilot skill and also experience - Chad is an experienced competitor. The pressure of a $10k competition is something almost none of the pilots there had felt before.
Bruce H. Anderson
Wow, Bob, we could program drones to fly a particular path and not hit a post. Sounds like a thrill a minute, like a watching a factory production line.
MarkCocquio
I was at this event and it was an amazing experience. As mentioned above, a lot of the 120 (not 100) pilots had no competition experience at all, and I can tell it's very hard to control your craft precisely when your hands are shaking from adrenaline. This is an exciting sport that will only get better from here. Next year things will be *much* harder!
jeronimo
Amazing how quickly this technology has advanced. Once people start racing against each other with anything new, the desire for an "edge" over your competitor accelerates the technology big time. Look what happened in 5 short years from 1939 to 1944. Nothing like a good scrap between creative engineers to advance aerial technology.
ScotRefsland
I'm the Race Director of the Drone Nationals event, and I can tell you waypoint driven drones are incredibly 'dumb' and are no match for a human FPV racer at this point. They are too slow, no intelligence and don't have any contextual understanding of their environment (airspeed, other competitors, external conditions). It's why one of my next races is Human FPV racer versus Machine Intelligent Vision FPV. You can find more at droneracing dot io. In that future race, the machine drone can't use waypoints, and has to figure out the course using cameras, lidar and artificial intelligence to navigate via context, environmental conditions, etc.) There's a million feedback artifacts that come off the sticks that a human FPV racer can understand and decipher via higher level reasoning and complex problem solving skills - all in milliseconds. Add adrenaline and on-the-fly, ever changing strategic flying (i.e. do you draft on a fellow competitor, do you risk ballooning because you over throttled to get ahead at a gate...) That makes the drama and high entertainment value. Until drones can self reason, a human race will always be more exciting.