Drone racing is big business, but you can start in your own backyard with the Lily Next-Gen Drone.
Racing leagues showcase pilots competing for finishing first around complex, tightly-wound obstacle courses.
Now in its third season, the Drone Racing League will premiere on the sports channel ESPN this fall. The Aerial Sports League has sponsorships from major sports teams, the cable company Xfinity, banks, and others, and has been covered by NBC. The International Drone Racing Association has events for recreational as well as commercial pilots in the U.S and Europe.
Venues for organizations like these are big, such as BMW Welt and Circus Circus hotel’s Adventuredome, a five-acre indoor course in Las Vegas.
Big money awaits the top finishers but you can have fun on your own, outdoors or in a large indoor space.
All it takes is basic equipment like gates, flags and cones.
If you’re indoors, you’ll also need a drone cage, often just a net you can buy either as a pre-made pop up, or netting to fabricate yourself. Many drones have propeller cages as accessories but these have aerodynamic drag that slows them down. Not by much, but in racing tenths of seconds matter.
If you want to go luxe, timing systems, LED arrow signs, and worktables can get you closer to a pro experience.
Your biggest expenditure will as you expect be in drones, controllers, and the equipment and tools needed to keep them in tip-top shape. It’s common for a drone to hit an obstacle like a hoop or a flag—or even each other!—when racing, so expect plenty of time for repairs.
The most precise way to fly is via first-person-view (FPV) so you see exactly what your drones does moment by moment. That adds another layer of cost for FPV goggles, a video transmitter on the drone, and video receiver for your goggles. Don’t forget consumables like batteries and propellers.
Hobby shops and drone racing specialty stores will be your friend. That and skill with a soldering iron, circuit tester, and screwdriver. And if you really get into a need for speed, writing and debugging firmware to tweak the extra mile-per-hour out of your puppy.
If possible, shop local. If you have a great store in your area you may be able to pick up valuable tips from the store personnel and other customers. Check other local venues, too. If you’re really in luck you’ll have a resource like the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, Calif., which offers workshops and hands on time building and flying drones for racing.
After this, practice as much as humanly possible.
The adage in car racing is, "Speed costs money. . . how fast do you want to go?” That’s just as true for drones. But if you’re starting out, you’ll find it’s a lot cheaper to race against friends on drone course than it would be to run against the pros in Formula 1.
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