How it works

The history of drone racing

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles have a military origin dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. For some time now, however, the technology has also been used by private individuals – and this is no wonder given its wide range of applications.  Nowadays, drones are used for aerial photography, entertainment, and research. Around 2013, after flying quadrocopters had already been a popular hobby for several years, the change from sideline to complex competitions occurred. The drone races first came into play when in Australia the so-called “Rotocross” (of motocross) took place. Here, the pilots relied on first-person-view (FPV) goggles, providing the view from the “cockpit” of the drone.  This allowed them to control the drone conveniently from a distance.  This is the origin of the races as we organize them today; and as the viewing and social media figures reveal, interest continues to grow steadily. In addition, the involvement of major corporations such as Allianz, AIG, and Vodafone shows that races with drones have become mainstream.

main systems

A racing quadcopter is substantially different from common photography drones. Built for extreme speed, agility and durability, it’s controlled directly by the pilot without the use of GPS navigation or other computer assistance. With incredible acceleration and agility, it can reach a speed of over 160 kmh and fly for several kilometers given the right conditions and setup.

frame

The frame of a racing quadcopter can be considered as its bones: the rigid structure that holds all the electronic components together. It’s generally made of the strongest carbon fibre to withstand frequent and hard crashes. In DCL, the minimum size is a diagonal of 325mm (motor to motor).

thrust system

The thrust that accelerates and manoeuvres the copter is generated by plastic propellers, spun at variable speeds by powerful brushless electric motors. The ESC (electronic speed controllers) are responsible for delivering the correct amount of current to the motors, according to the required rotation speed. The most commonly used propellers for racing are 5 or 6 inches in diameter, with 3 blades. A single motor can output up to 1.5 kg of thrust for a total of 6 kg, applied to a Copter of 700g creating a thrust-to-weight ratio up to 8/1.

battery

DCL racing quadcopters use 4-cell, high performance Li-Po (Lithium Polymer) batteries. They operate at a nominal voltage of 14.8 V and they can discharge up to 120-150 Amperes of current. Batteries can have different sizes and capacity, but they typically last up to 2-3 minutes of high speed racing.

fpv system

The FPV (First Person View) system allows the pilot and the spectators to see – in real time – through the quadcopter’s robotic eye, allowing for an incredibly immersive, high speed, experience. The system consists of a small analog camera (usually around 600 tv lines), a video transmitter (VTX) and a FPV antenna. The VTX encodes the video captured by the camera and sends it to the receiver on the pilot’s goggles using a 5.8 GHz radio link with very low latency (approx 15ms).

controls system

A second antenna receives the commands of the pilot’s remote control through a secondary radio link. The receiver interprets them and communicates them to the flight controller. The flight controller is the “brain” of the quadcopter. Its main sensor is a gyroscope that measures its rotation speed. The FC compares the detected rotation speed with the one requested by the pilot and calculates, with precision, thousands of times per second, the necessary rotation speed of each single motor, so that the copter can execute what the pilot is requesting.

hd camera

The FPV video system is optimized for extremely low latency, it’s video quality and resolution are generally very poor. For this reason most pilots use an HD action camera to capture stunning HD footage. The most commonly used are the GoPro Session, because of their form factor and quality of footage.

conclusion

Apart from the main systems described, racing quadcopters often install other minor components: one of the most important is an array of colored LEDs, which makes the quadcopters easy to identify for other pilots and for spectators.

What is Drone Racing?

The term Drone Racing stands for a new kind of motorsport aimed at a young generation.

During the race, the challenge is to master a course with your own quadrocopter, which offers chicanes from different natural and artificial obstacles. The goal is to finish first. Drone-racing is possible in different formats:

In Time Trial races, the pilots are alone on the track. Only at the end of the racing, are the race times compared between the pilots. Drag races are more action-packed, with two or more drones on the track. The aim is to be the first to complete the 100-metre-long course. In Rotocross, several drones fly through the track, which is also used in time races. Here, too, the pilot whose drone is first to reach the finish wins.

And what does a drone race look like?  The pilots sit next to each other on stage in their “cockpit” and wear FPV goggles to fly through the track from the perspective of their drones, whereby the drone is controlled by remote control. LED lights in different colours are attached to the quadrocopters so that spectators can follow which pilot belongs to which drone. From the start to the finish there are different gates and natural obstacles which form a three-dimensional race track. Due to the often high speeds (the maximum speed is over 160 km/h) and the high acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h, accidents are often unavoidable.

 

Who are the pilots?

Anyone can enter the world of drone racing and become a champion. Age, gender, and background are irrelevant. Due to the low prices for drones as compared to other racing disciplines, the entry barrier is also quite low. DCL pilots come from all over the world, including Asia, North & South America, Australia, and Europe and have already gained experience in many races. In addition to many exciting possibilities, there will be high prize money at the events.

How does the DCL racing format work?

We’ve redesigned our racing format to better serve fans, pilots and teams – more excitement, more presence, more strategy and more energy. Qualification races consist of time trials in which the overall result of a team decides where it will be placed in the final rounds. In each of the final rounds, two teams of four pilots compete against each other in 5 runs. Runs 1-4 are called “single heats” because each run is 1 against 1.  The winner of each “single heat” earns 1 point for their team.

Heat 5, or the “big heat”, is 4 vs. 4, where all 8 team pilots fly. The winning team receives 1 point, a bonus of 3 points is rewarded if 3 pilots of the same team finish in the first 3 positions and a bonus of 5 points is rewarded if 4 pilots from the same team finish in the first 4 positions.  Each pilot from each team starts in a “single heat” (a total of 4 individual competitions) and the final is a “big heat”.  The team with the most points after 5 runs advances to the next round or wins the Drone Prix if it’s the final round.

Qualification
Time Trials
Quarterfinal
5 Heats
Semifinal
5 Heats
Final
5 Heats

What are the first steps to learn how to fly a race drone?

Flying a race drone takes practice and patience because the beginning can be frustrating. Accidents are simply part of the process. This makes it important to prepare properly. Below is a list of tips for getting started with flying a race drone:

  • Buying a race drone: As already mentioned, race drones can be purchased for a comparatively low price. The cost of a racing drone starts at around 100 euros. However, in the upper price segment, prices of more than 500 euros are also possible for a corresponding drone. However, we recommend beginners to start with an inexpensive model. See the the section "Best race drones for beginners". By the way: A camera must always be on board because it is fundamental for the FPV drone flight (flying from the first person's view). This should support 60 fps.
  • The first drone flight: In most cases, after unpacking the drone, you can start immediately. To do this, place the drone on the ground in front of you and point the camera away from you. Then take control of the remote. Forego the FPV goggles at the beginning and use them only as soon as you are confident in handling the drone.
  • The first start: The best way to fly is to move the throttle on the remote control in a vertical direction. Next, you can make small changes of direction with the left stick.
  • With FPV-goggles: As soon as you feel safe driving the drone, you can use the FPV goggles. Here's another hint: Make sure that the camera is facing away from you and pointing forward. For more tips and tricks, look for videos online.

What are the best racing drones for beginners?

The following are racing drone recommendations. Depending on the available budget, there are different models to start droning. It is important to have a camera on board that records at 60 fps and does not transmit these images via WLAN. At around 300 ms, the latency (delay in data transmission) would be too high to be able to control the drone at high speeds.

This is only a small selection. The market is well stocked and there are drones and corresponding accessories for everyone. If that is not enough for you, you will find a large selection of parts apart from the finished models to build your own drone.