by Zackary Nicklin
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019 issue
Imagine shrinking yourself small enough to sit atop a six-inch drone and racing along at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour through an obstacle laden course. Sharp turns, rapid acceleration and deceleration, along with dramatic gains and losses in altitude. It gets your heart racing just thinking about it.
While we lack the technology to shrink ourselves down to the right size to accomplish this, we can do the next best thing, First Person View (FPV) drone racing. A small quadcopter consisting of four motors, a few electronic speed controllers, a flight controller and a battery is outfitted with a small camera and a video transmitter. The video is received by a pair of goggles worn by the pilot and gives a view much like what you would see were you able to perch on the front of the quadcopter.
FPV racing is a new sport that is taking the world by storm. In just the last 5 years, this event went from nonexistent to a professional, sponsored race that pits players against international opponents with purses that top $75,000 for first place finishers.
Colleges are getting in on the action, too. FPV drone racing clubs and teams have been formed at more than 26 universities in the United States alone. Purdue University has a racing club that tops out at 180 individual members. Purdue’s club took things a step further when they held the first inter-collegiate drone competition in 2017, aptly named The Collegiate Drone Racing Championships. Racers matched reflexes for both individual and team points in order to be crowned champions. The Second Annual Championship was recently held with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University taking 1st and 3rd place and the University of Central Florida placed 2nd.
This sport combines the skill and mechanics of robotic competitions with fast-paced action and even some wicked crashes, while also sharpening other skills. Students will be using electronics knowledge, physics, soldering, 3D printing and advanced composites engineering in order to keep their quadcopters in optimum working condition, minimizing weight while maximizing speed and agility.
NCTC is looking to start its own FPV Racing Club this year. The club will start small by using simulators and very small 3-inch aircraft, specifically made to fly indoors. As the team progresses and refines their skills, the club will hold fundraisers in order to buy larger and faster aircraft, along with upgraded FPV goggles and associated equipment. Come to Northland for our one-of-a-kind programs and career opportunities, but don’t forget to have fun while you are here!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Zackary Nicklin is a Maintenance Instructor for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.