FPV Racing: From Hobby to Money Maker

By: Kathleen Hickey

A New Era in FPV Racing

Anyone in the UAV, or drone community will notice one particular area that is on a steady rise; FPV Racing. In recent months FPV Racing has been riding a wave of attention, and growth that is seemingly unstoppable. Local races and meet-ups in parks have turned into large multi-day events, in incredible locations, all around the world. Companies like ESPN, Mountain Dew, and GoPro are all testing the waters to see if FPV Racing can be a viable source of marketing, and income. There is talk of introducing gambling to the sport. But with growth, and money come higher stakes for people involved, and leaves one to wonder what will become of a growing sport if put in the hands of people that want to monetize it. 

Racing With The Big Boys (and Girls)

This year alone has seen a number of incredible races. In January XDC had it's second race at the Zappos HQ in Las Vegas, which took place the same week as CES. 

The Track for XDC2 was more proximity, and show. There were large screens to show live feed, and share social media pictures. For the final, there was an audience of 500 people in attendance, which were able to participate in the race by voting by applause for the the freestyle pilot they enjoyed watching the most. It also ushered in one of the hottest course trends in FPV, the glowing gates created by FPV LighTrax, which is admittedly a stunning visual for any audience. 

At the end of January, I attended Flight Night, a race presented by ThunderDrone Racing. Although it was a single night event, it was full of production value not usually seen in FPV Racing. 

Then of course, came the announcement of an international race that claimed it would change the sport of FPV; The World Drone Prix in Dubai. 

Following the World Drone Prix were races in caves, multi-day FPV LighTrax courses for nationals qualifiers, and the integration of two prominant FPV organizations, IDRA and the Drone Worlds - Drone Nationals by Rotor Sports. This year the Drone Nationals will be held in New York City in August, at Governors Island and will be broadcasted live on ESPN, which is a huge change from last years race in Sacramento, CA. The Drone Worlds will take place in Hawaii in October, on Kualoa Ranch. 

The Mountain Dew sponsored DR1 Race was held at the end of June, bringing household brands to FPV Racing. 

The race was an invitational, which included twelve top FPV pilots, and was shot for release on a cable network. 

In recent months, FPV has captured the attention of major media outlets, such as 60 Minutes Sports. 

There was also a CorridorDigital You Tube video that features the flying talents of FPV pilots Chad Nowak and Steele Davis, through their show Rotor Riot. The video has gained nearly 2 Million views. 

Do I need to mention that it's just July....

Who is Actually Winning

Like many things that experience rapid growth, there are also some growing pains. The Drone World Prix which initially sent the FPV world a flutter with a one million dollar prize went through several race, and prize restructures. It went from an invitational, to a race with a video entry qualifier, something that had not been done before in FPV racing. The one million dollar prize turned to a 250K prize for the winner, with smaller prizes spread out to ranking pilots in the race, and freestyle competitions. The World Drone Prix also required pilots come in teams, so most pilots split their prize, which left winning pilots with much much less than what the promotional videos had touted. 

Instead of all teams having their accommodations paid for when it was an invitational, teams in the top 20 would have their travel expenses reimbursed. Four months later, some of those top 20 teams have still not received checks from the World Drone Prix for what they had to pay out of pocket for hotel, and travel costs. With pilots receiving less than a months notice that they had qualified for the race, for most teams travel was booked at a premium. People looking in may assume that pilots are being taken care of by large race organizations, and pilots are not ones to speak out publicly against an organization if they have not been compensated, which leaves an illusion of a grand race.

 For other big events, pilots are given prize money if they place, or (in one known case), an appearance fee, which pilots had to use to put towards their accommodations, which left some of them with less money then when they came. Some pilots have their travel paid for by sponsors, but the pilots that don't have those types of sponsorships have to attend the larger races on their own dime to compete with the best, and with the hope that a win may open doors to more lucrative opportunities. There have been instances where prize money has taken over six months or more to make it to the pilots. 

So with a growing industry that includes big RC manufactures, corporate sponsorships, and pilot sponsorships, who is walking away with the best deal. Although the number is growing, it is very rare to find a pilot that is able to make a living from racing alone, with no other source of income. As races get larger, and destinations get further away, who is making sure that the heart of FPV, the pilots, are receiving fair treatment for what they are giving? With no managers or agents, pilots are left to negotiate their own terms. The current group of elite pilots, may at some point need to set the standard for how pilots are paid for their work, including use of their footage, to consultation and appearance fees, and travel costs. In time, sponsorships may include money, and not just free products.

As it transitions from park meet-ups and fun flys, to a lucrative money making sport, it will be interesting to see the people and companies that will come out on top as the true money makers. Will FPV race organizers see the profit? Will the product manufactures see the most reward? Will the pilots see their fair share of the pie? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, regardless of what happens, we can only hope that the fun, community, spirit, and innovation of the FPV community is never overshadowed by the money. 

 

Happy Flying!

 

 

CES 2016: Going Through the Looking Glass

By Kathleen Hickey

I was in Las Vegas last year during CES, but only for a day, and I did not attend. As I walked around Vegas, mainly shopping, I saw groups of CES badge wearers, and thought how amazing it would be to actually attend.

Fast forward eight months later, and I had started my blog. I registered for CES in October, and I'll say that the email confirming my registration was one of the best I had received that year. I was in, and three short months later, I was in Las Vegas, standing on the showroom floor.  

CES is a trade only event, and has various requirements to attend. Attendees are asked to provide credentials in advance to verify that they are affiliated with the consumer technology industry. It takes place in several locations throughout Las Vegas, including the Las Vegas Convention Center, and a number of hotels. Those locations were named "Tech East," "Tech South" and on, so they would be easy to find, and navigate through. Vendors were separated into categories based on  the type of technology they represent. DJI was under "Digital Imaging/Photography", and "Other Consumer Technology". There was not a specific Drone, UAS, UAV category. Most of my time was spent in Tech East, where the UAV and drone technology was located.

My first stop was at DJI. As always, they had an amazing booth, which featured all of their products and platforms. The new OSMO, released in October was a feature at the booth. OSMO is a handheld gimbal which features digital imaging, and advanced 3-axis stabilization system making it the first of its kind in a handheld camera. With OSMO, you can capture images with timelapse, tripod free long exposure, and 360 automatic panorama. The OSMO comes with the Zenmuse X3 camera, and provides 4K video at 24, 25, or or 30 frames per second. CES attendees had an opportunity to borrow the OSMO for an hour to document their CES experience. It was also featured with the new Zenmuse X5 camera.

DJI offered attendees the chance to take a DJI New Pilot Experience class, which took place in a remote location, about 30 minutes away from the convention center. Attendees could sign up for a specific class time slot, and were taken by bus to the location. Also featured was the newest addition to the Phantom Series, the Phantom 3 4K which is the only one in the series to offer 4K video and Wi-Fi connectivity for live video feed.

Also on hand was the Inspire 1 Pro Raw with the Zenmuse X5 in black (try saying that three times fast). Which is perfect for pilots that want to fly on the dark side.

My next big stop was at Yuneec which unveiled the new Typhoon H at CES. 

One of the most exciting things about the Typhoon H, would be its autonomous features. The sense and avoid technology, which allows the Typhoon H to detect when large objects are in its way was highlighted, and well as its Journey, Orbit, Curved Cable, and Point of Interest Modes. It also features retractable landing gear, and a 4K Camera. The Typhoon H is not yet available for purchase, but is believed to retail for around $1,799, which is less than other leading drones with similar features. Yuneec has become a leader in the drone industry, through advanced technology and competitive pricing. I'm looking forward to seeing the Typhoon H at work, and what's in the future for Yuneec. 

Another notable drone was the Hexo+. It seems to fit somewhere between a standard drone, and the Lily, which sees itself more in the GoPro market than drones. The Hexo+ is controlled by an App on your smartphone, although it is also RC compatible. The Hexo+ tracking feature, and 45 MPH maximum speed make it more idea for people that would want a drone for extreme sports, and other action based activities. 

Ehang unveiled a single passenger drone, Ehang184 which is an Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) that can fly for about 20 minutes, and carry a person up to 260 pounds. Of course their are many considerations, (and laws), to be considered before something like Ehang184 could come to market, but it was very impressive to see in person, and something that we may have to look forward to in the future. 

Another amazing booth, and one of my favorites at CES came from Parrot. Although drones are just part of the Parrot family, which includes headphones, Bluetooth devices, robots, and even something that helps you water your plants, Drones were a focal point. 

Taking center stage was the the Parrot Disco, the first "Ready To Fly" Fixed-Wing drone. It has a 45 minute flight time due to a 2700mAh battery. It also has embedded ground sensors, detachable wings for transport, and automatic takeoff, landing and return home modes.  

Parrot also offered attendees an amazing show, with choreographed autonomous drones within their flight cage. It was colorful, fun, and full of life. Also on hand was the Bebop 2, and an FPV compatible Skycontroller. 

Going to CES truly felt like stepping into another world. There was so much to see, and participate in. It was incredible to see all of the new technology, and not just in drones, but in various tech fields. Information is already up for CES 2017. There is an email sign up that will let you know when registration is open. I will be posting tips and things to know when planning your trip to CES for next year. If you'd like to see more pictures, they are available on my Adventures Page! Thank you CES for a wonderful time. I'll see you next year...

Happy Flying

Me with my badge. I put it on as soon as I got it. Maybe not the cool expo move, but I was too excited to not have it on. Although I still wonder about what Services I'm Providing...

Me with my badge. I put it on as soon as I got it. Maybe not the cool expo move, but I was too excited to not have it on. Although I still wonder about what Services I'm Providing...

DJI OSMO with the Zenmuse X5 camera and additional accessories. Available through the  DJI Website . 

DJI OSMO with the Zenmuse X5 camera and additional accessories. Available through the DJI Website

The new Phantom 3 4K

The new Phantom 3 4K

Inspire 1 Pro Raw with the Zenmuse X5 in black

Inspire 1 Pro Raw with the Zenmuse X5 in black

Yuneec Typhoon H

Yuneec Typhoon H

Part of the Yuneec booth at CES

Part of the Yuneec booth at CES

Hexo+

Hexo+

Ehang184 AAV

Ehang184 AAV

Parrot Booth

Parrot Booth

Parrot Disco: CES Innovation Award Honoree - Unmanned Systems and Accessories.

Parrot Disco: CES Innovation Award Honoree - Unmanned Systems and Accessories.

Parrot flight cage with the Disco

Parrot flight cage with the Disco

Do You Like to F....... Part 2

By Kathleen Hickey

The Recap

I hope those of you that read "Do You Like to F.......Part 1" enjoyed learning a little about the history of FPV racing, watching the You Tube videos that helped create the fan base, and basic flying information. If you didn't read Part 1... (tisk tisk)...but don't fear. Part 1 is available below. 

I again have to give a big thank you to Joe Scully Race Director of FPV Racing Events for giving me a full history and breakdown of FPV racing. FPV Racing Events hosts premier racing events in Canada, and the United States. Information on their upcoming events can be found by following the link to their website. 

I also need to thank AJ Goin, aka Awkbots, team pilot for Ready Made RC (RMRC), for sharing a pilot's perspective with me. 

To help with some of the terms, products, and lingo, I have also included a glossary, which is available at the end of the blog. I will add additional words per blog as they apply.

The Anatomy Of A Quad 

Now that you've seen a bit of what racing quads can do, here's a look at some of the main parts, and equipment you'll need to start flying.

  1. Frame: Quad frames are primarily made from carbon fiber. Frames are available in different millimeter sizes. Frames can be purchased already made, or if you're more advanced at racing, you can go with a custom built frame. 
  2. Motors: You'll need four, one for each propeller. 
  3. ESC: Electronic Speed Controller - Also four of these. 
  4. Props: You can't have enough...
  5. LiPo Batteries: Each battery varies in flight time. If you have added components attached to your battery, that can shorten how much air time you have. Which LiPo you decide to go with will depend on how much power you need, but you will probably want to purchase a good amount of batteries. Also, LiPo batteries can potentially be dangerous. You should never fly with a damaged battery. Any battery that has a damaged cell must be properly disposed of, even if the other cells are functioning. There are various ways to properly store batteries, but they need to be stored in a safe container of some kind. You should also never leave your batteries charging unattended. (Safety First!)
  6. Antenna
  7. Flight Controller: The most important part!
  8. Transmitter
  9. Receiver: This may come with the transmitter when you purchase one, but they can also be purchased separately and switched out. 
  10. Goggles: Fat Shark makes a variety of goggles. There are also Fat Shark kits you can purchase that come with the FPV camera, receiver, and transmitter. 
  11. Battery Charger

While looking for information on how to build a quad, I found this video on You Tube from Tested, which has a great step by step tutorial on the parts, and the building process. 

There are several other tools that you will need for the actual build. 

  • Soldering iron
  • 2mm hex driver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Exacto knife 
  • Wire Strippers
  • Small Screwdrivers
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Double Sided Tape
  • Zip Ties (can never have too many of those...)

Additional tools and parts will be needed depending on the build. There are also various added components that were mentioned in the video, such as battery straps, locator, antenna tubes, spacer, etc. Some of these items you can purchase in sets. AJ recommends a tool set sold by RMRC, which you can take a look at here.

There are also ARF or RTF models available if you'd rather not build your own. It's also good to keep in mind that you'll have to replace parts due to crashing, so make sure to look into something that has components that can be replaced easily. 

As mentioned in the video,  it's important to understand what you would like to fly as a unit, and not purchase parts that are not compatible with the size and power needs of the quad you are building. There are various calculations for frame size, motors, ESCs, and batteries, to be sure you are purchasing parts that are the right size, and will give you the right amount of power to actually fly. There are also various race categories and/or requirements depending on the size of various parts, like your frame, or prop size, which is something to consider if you'd like to race. 

I asked AJ Goin (Awkbots), what advice he would give to someone wanting to get into FPV Racing, and here's what he had to say about building your own quad. "One thing I would say is, when getting into a hobby, don't buy the cheapest everything in fear of not enjoying it. I always buys the best the first time, because it makes the experience more enjoyable, and if you don't end up liking it, it's much easier to sell. Obviously not everyone can afford to get the best gear immediately, but do your research and get the best bang for the buck gear."

When just starting out, AJ believes the key thing keep in mind, is to keep it simple. "Get something in the air, line of sight first, and really try to get the hang of that, then graduate to FPV. Don't worry about trying to fly miles away or have GPS position hold...if it's something you want to do, watch as many You Tube videos on it as possible. If you're still interested after that then maybe try it. For me personally, I don't use a single bell or whistle, and never get more than 100-200 yards away. I don't feel like walking that far after I crash (and you will crash). No matter how many videos you watch and see amazing pilots do what seem like perfect runs, just know WE ALL CRASH!"  

Part three of the blog is all about the actual race. From the different types of races, requirements, pilots, and how to get started in an actual race yourself, I'll go over the race from top to bottom. I'll also be sharing a list of events in 2016, and the races I'm most looking forward to. Until then, take a look at what you need to make your quad dreams a reality...and as always...

Happy Flying!

Please keep in mind that all drone flying requires pilots to follow safety guidlines and standards. If you are in the US, please visit the FAA website, or Know Before You Fly to ensure a safe flying experience. 

Glossary

  • ARF: Almost Ready to Fly - a drone that requires some assembly before flight. 
  • Fixed Wing: Usually referring to hobby planes, which have wings, and not removable propellers, or props. 
  • FPV: First Person View - a method used to control a UAV from the viewpoint of the pilot. The UAV is piloted from a first person perspective by an on-board camera, which is fed with wireless technology to a video monitor, or FPV goggles. 
  • Multi-Rotor: Another name for multicopters, or quadcopters. 
  • Quad: Another name for a drone. 
  • RC: Remote-Control
  • RPV: Remote Person View - another term for FPV
  • RTF: Ready To Fly - No assembly required before flight.
  • Video Piloting: An alternate term for FPV and/or RPV
  • VTX: Video Transmitter System

Thankful

By Kathleen Hickey

This week has been one of the most difficult, and challenging I've gone through. And if you knew what some of those other weeks looked like, you'd know that this was pretty bad. It seemed like one thing after another would come up, and I got to the point where I couldn't breathe. 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and while some people are finishing up their shopping lists, and preparing their homes for guests, I'm wondering how I'll get through another empty night. So I decided to do what people do on Thanksgiving. I would make a list of the things I am thankful for. I took out a pad of paper, and I just stared at the blank sheet. There are many things that I'm of course thankful for. I don't live in a country in the middle of war. I won't go to bed hungry. I live in a nice neighborhood, and I have a great family and friends. But as I started to write those things down, it felt like checking off boxes I was supposed to check. 

So I sat alone, and closed my eyes, I took a deep breath, and thought about my life these past months I thought about the things that have truly made a difference in my life. I started Sex Love and Drones as a way to express myself, and put myself out there in a way I never have. I'm generally a very shy person. I wanted to do something that would force me to do things I've never done before, and to meet new people, and make my own memories. 

Since starting SLD, I have had the privilege of meeting  some amazing people. Some I've met in person, and some I know through Twitter,  Instagram, or texting. People from France, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and all over the United States. Some people have touched my life with a comment, or a simple gesture. Some have become an important part of my life. These poor folks have showed patience, and humor while I constantly inundate them with questions like:

  • What is that?
  • How did you do that?
  • How many batteries are you taking?
  • How did you break that?
  • What does that do?
  • What are you eating (the foodie in me). 
  • What is that again????

We've shared stories about life, family, adventures, and of course, drones. They have shared their passion, their wisdom, their vision, and their kindness with me, daily. They took the time to listen to me, when I thought no one cared about what I had to say. They encouraged me to do my best, and keep working, when I thought I could not fit one more piece of drone information in my mind. They listen to my bad drone jokes, and put up with my sailor mouth. They have inspired me with their work and passion. From photography, to racing, and education, they have made me want to be better, and to learn more. I don't know what tomorrow brings. I don't know what will make me smile or laugh again. I don't know what will bring a smile to my face, or how many more days I'll cry. I don't know what friendships will end, and which will begin, but I know I have a great community to lean into. 

You hear a lot about drones in the media. Well let me tell you a little about some of the people that fly them. They are some of the most open, caring, compassionate, and giving people I have ever met. They have made me laugh, and smile, and have helped me to believe in myself again. They have literally saved me. I am proud and honored to to have them as friends....and yes...THANKFUL. 

I hope you all know who you are. Thank You, from the bottom of my heart. Happy Thanksgiving. 

 

 

 

Drones: Responsibility vs. Regulation

By Kathleen Hickey

When discussing drones, one of the most common topics that comes up is regulation. I've found that a parallel conversation to regulation, is that of responsibility. If you're new to drones, or a pro, responsibility and regulation are both important and highly discussed. 

For someone thinking about buying a drone, or perhaps for someone that has just purchased one, the idea of various local, state, and federal flight regulations can be very overwhelming, and confusing. So what exactly is a regulation, and how does that differ from an actual law? Regulations are administrative codes and rules issued by various government agencies, like the FAA. Regulations are not laws, but they have the same force as laws. There are enforceable penalties for not following set regulations at any government level. Federal regulations are adopted through the Administrative Procedure Act (A.P.A.), with states having similar guidelines. Now that regulations have been defined, it's important to look at responsibility.

How much responsibility for safe flying and education falls on the government and regulatory agencies? Are flight rules and regulations easily accessible to the average consumer? Is there enough communication to the average public that these laws and regulations even exist? Is it easy for people to understand exactly what the rules are in their county, state, and on the federal level? 

On Monday October 19th, the Department of Transportation announced the creation of a task force that will make recommendations for a UAS, (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) registration process. The hope from the DOT is that registration will create more accountability, and responsibility for people that fly drones. The task force, which is comprised of representatives from the UAS industry, government, and other interested parties is expected to have their report completed by November 20th. Although many welcome and support safety and education for people that fly drones, it seems clear that the DOT is racing against the clock to prepare for the upcoming holidays, when it is estimated that over one million drones will be sold. At this point, it is not know if the registration process will provide resources, education, and tools for people to be safe flyers, or if it will be more heavy in regulation. 

As the government works to create a system to enforce safe flying, how much of the responsibility of education falls under the care of the manufactures? Drones have become increasingly accessible,  more affordable, and easier to use. Manufactures are marketing their drones to the masses. Should increased revenue come with increased responsibility? Some manufactures have links on their websites to Know Before You Fly or reference safe flying. DJI offers the New Pilot Experience, a free class though various authorized partners, which in part covers safe and responsible flying. What amount of obligation, if any, should private companies have in educating their buyers on safety, and regulations? Do consumers understand what they are buying, and what responsibilities come with their purchase if they are able to walk into a mall, or local big box store to but it?

Of course manufacturers can only do so much. As nice as it would be to have a personal one on one drone liaison with every purchase, it's not practical. When you purchase a car, the dealer does not go into length on local driving laws and proper safety. Links to websites, information about safety, classes, and manuals, only work if customers actually use them.  There is also something to be said for common sense, and courtesy for those around us. 

Over time, government, manufactures, and consumers will all take their place in safe and responsible drone ownership, and regulation. More information will be available after the task force has made their recommendations. Until then, for someone wanting to better understand flight regulations, the best resources are Know Before You Fly, as well as information from local and state government agencies. Before traveling, be sure to check local ordinances, and for possible no fly zones in the area you will be visiting to ensure a safe and worry-free adventure.   

Happy Flying!