Drone geeks get a blast of Star Wars speed in this new sport

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That blur there is a quad-copter, racing through a sweet forest obstacle course. Screengrab: New Scientist
That blur there is a quad-copter, racing through a sweet forest obstacle course. Screengrab: New Scientist

It may be hard to tell from the image above, but that’s a hot-rodding quadcopter speeding through the forest at about 100 miles an hour. The drone is taking part in the first large-scale first-person video drone race ever in the United States, held last week in Los Angeles.

For the operators, staring at video screens or wearing virtual reality goggles while their drones record the high-speed chase via tiny mounted cameras, the experience is not unlike the best part of the prequel Star Wars movies — the podracing scene.

Check out the video below for a better sense of what these guys are doing.

The competitors are flying seriously customized rigs, drones that would tear the pants off a consumer-level toy drone like the popular Parrot AR. Still, a decent drone won’t set you back too much — that is, of course, if you think a high-end laptop is affordable. One racer last week said his completely modded startup rig only cost him $1,200, which isn’t too bad for such a rarified sport.

Each drone also needs a decent camera, one that can withstand the speed and stream video back to the operator, who watches either on a tiny screen or with a video headset, both of which can set you back a pretty penny, as well.

Getting races like these going in the United States is tricky, because federal aviation regulations prohibit drones from leaving their operator’s sight. This race in Los Angeles, organized by Ryo Rex, has a spotter for each drone to make sure the regulations are upheld.

Even with the cost and the understandably tight regulations, these drone geeks look to be having the time of their life as they streak around corners, down near the ground, and across the finish line.

Makes me want to head to the hobby shop right now and start droning on.

Source: New Scientist