Science

Drone racing: everything you need to know

Welcome to our guide to everything there is to know about the fast-growing competitive sport of drone racing. From where it started, what it is, the best drones to buy, the leagues and competitions, and how you can get started yourself, we have compiled all the information to take you to the next level of drone flying. And, if you want to see it, we also have information about it.

In 2006, the FAA officially issued the first commercial drone permit, and over the years flying recreational drones has become increasingly popular. Flying drones can be an enjoyable hobby, part of a lucrative business, and can even help with everyday work, but there has also been an increase over the years in racing with them for sport. And sometimes the sport can lead to cash prizes, brand deals, and accolades in the drone racing arena.

While all of this is true, the sport continues to grow and still remains fairly underground, but there have been some big breakthroughs that we’ll explore next. So here we go, everything we know about drone racing and you must know about drone racing.

What is drone racing?

Drone racing - Picture shows a person piloting an FPV drone

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Drone racing makes flying drones a competitive sport. Drone operators wear a head-mounted display, like goggles that connect directly to a camera on board the drone they are flying. This camera transmits a live feed from the drone to the headset, which means the pilot can navigate from the view of the drone.

These types of drones are called FPV drones, as in the first person view, due to the fact that the drone operator only sees what the drone sees. They become one with the drone and as such fly the drone as if they were on board.

The sport of drone racing is judged by how quickly pilots can navigate through a series of obstacles. Quicker wins. At big events, live broadcasts from drones are broadcast on screens across the field (and sometimes around the world) for spectators to see and enjoy.

Where did it all begin?

Drone racing has been around since 2011, when a group of amateur drone pilots reportedly got together in Karlsruhe, Germany, to take part in some semi-organized races. From there, it morphs into a multi-competition sporting event with many leagues having their own fields with prizes to be won, which we will talk about later.

What are the typical courses and obstacles?

Using quadcopters, drone pilots navigate three-dimensional tours. Different drone racing organizations have different types of obstacles that racers must navigate. The competitions are held in stadiums around the world with obstacles such as gates, stairs, fences in all ranges of elevations and difficulties.

However, lately there has been a rise in e-sports drone racing, which means that pilots are navigating virtual circuits. For example, the Drone Racing League World Championship includes tracks like Biosphere SIM, Campground SIM, US Air Force Boneyard SIM, and Allianz Riviera SIM, all virtual maps created in a realistic drone racing simulator.

How fast do these drone races go?

According to the FAA, the legal and acceptable speed limit for racing drones is 100 mph. But they can go faster … if you are a professional. Some drivers have been known to reach speeds of up to 120 mph and the world record is actually 179 mph. But of course the FAA doesn’t recommend it.

What kinds of drones are used in drone racing?

DJI FPV

(Image credit: DJI FPV)

As mentioned above, FPV drones are the certified drones for use in drone racing. There are a variety of drones to choose from. You can decide to build and configure your drone to specification yourself or you can purchase one of the many ready-to-fly drones already on the market. For drone racing, you will need a setup focused on speed, agility, and performance.

DJI FPV
The DJI FPV drone is a pioneer in the FPV drone space featuring an immersive, intuitive, and ready-to-fly system with a multitude of accessories, including the DJI Motion Controller, allowing you to maneuver your drone with natural hand movements, and the DJI FPV Goggles V2, geared towards low latency, high definition and long distance transmission.

Parrot Anafi FPV
The Parrot Anafi FPV is another great competitor in the drone racing space. For around $ 749, depending on the reseller, you can purchase the Parrot Anafi FPV kit that comes with the quadcopter, a pair of cockpit lenses, a SkyController, and other accessories.

EMAX Tiny Hawk II
And then there’s the budget entry-level option: the EMAX Tiny Hawk II. If you’re looking to get started in drone racing, you can think of the EMAX Tiny Hawk II as an option that is beginner-friendly, micro-sized, and designed for fun.

How can I get started with drone racing?

FPV Drone Racing Goggles

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is important to first know the general drone regulations before operating a drone in any way. For this, we have a drone regulations guide that details everything you need to know.

Once you’re in the know, you’ll want to buy a beginner quadcopter to test your skills. If you’re already well versed in this part, it might be time to think about what kind of runner you want to be.

You can try some virtual drone racing simulators like Drone Racing League’s DRL SIM, a realistic drone racing simulator available on PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and Epic Games.

And then when you’re ready to fly, you’ll want to make sure your drone is fully equipped and specs for drone racing according to the class specs of whatever race you want to participate in. For example, the MultiGP has different specifications for its Tiny Whoop, Micro, or 3S classes.

In terms of leagues, the world leader in drone racing competitions is Drone Racing League with high speed racing on a variety of amazing fields. Other FPV organizations include MultiGP, a global drone racing league with over 14,000 members, and the International Drone Racing Association, responsible for sanctioning and governing drone racing events around the world. There are many others that host competitions locally and internationally, such as The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Leagues like the DRL have their own YouTube channel, with almost 130,000 subscribers, where you can watch live broadcasts and rewatch old races. In a big move for drone racing, the DRL also struck a million dollar deal with Sky to bring its live broadcasts to the Sky Sports Mix channel. Be sure to check out competition sites and social media channels for live and archival drone racing.

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