Around 500 pilots are vying for one of 32 spots in next month’s Dubai kick-off race for the World Drone Prix, according to organizers.
The high-profile new FPV racing competition promises $1 million in total prize money for its 2016 season. But while the unprecedented prize totals of World Drone Prix and quasi-official United Arab Emirates backing has guaranteed attention, the strains of launching a major new competition for a sport still in its infancy are showing.
With just over two weeks left until the March 11 main event, some would-be FPV millionaires still do not know whether they will need to book airline tickets: organizers extended the application deadline to February 20, five days past the original deadline, and have not yet announced qualifying pilots.
When those pilots do get to Dubai, they will need to swiftly modify their quads and adjust to new setups: competitors will have to mount several organizer-provided devices, including tracking modules, video transmitters, and HD cameras weighing up to 200 grams – which alone might equal 40% of a racing quad’s usual weight.
And the layout of the racetrack remains in flux, which means that pilots – anxious to engineer their drones and often needing days to order, receive, assemble and test new parts – right now can only guess at important factors like optimal battery size.
“Carrying a larger battery, for longer, along with an extra 200 grams completely changes how we have to build the quad,” says one FPV pilot who has applied to race in Dubai. “We need a bigger frame, bigger motors, bigger props… [P]retty much everything that we have been used to running changes.”
The evolution of FPV racing from hobby to commercialized sport faces inevitable turbulence, as pioneers search for the rules, technologies and business models to produce races that allow spectators to share in pilots’ thrills. Custom tracking and video equipment, for instance, may make drones heavier than pilots are accustomed to: several experienced competitors crashed their quads shortly after starting their heats in the new Drone Racing League’s first broadcast race this week in Miami, leading some fans to speculate that the new, custom-built machines put pilots off their game.
The World Drone Prix, which was announced late in 2015 and is slated to open with the live-streamed event in Dubai, is backed by United Arab Emirates officials and U.S.-based partner organizations Aerial Grand Prix and the International Drone Racing Association.
Organizing body World Organization for Racing Drones (WORD) says it will invite 32 teams – each made up of at least three crew, including a pilot, technician and navigator – to race in Dubai, based on video submissions of their best flying.
WORD suggested that the footage include ninety and one-hundred-and-eighty degree turns, vertical moves of ten meters, and multirotors navigating through obstacles no wider than three meters. Many pilots filmed their submissions on WORD-provided memory cards at official “meet-and-fly” events in Germany and the U.S., both of which more than 70 pilots attended, as well as in Japan.
In Dubai, eight pilots will race at a time on a track that WORD says will be “a first of its kind.”
Applications were open globally to any FPV pilot who could assemble a team and line up a company or private group as sponsor.
The World Drone Prix season is expected to last through 2016 and include up to eight events. Organizers have not yet announced how the prize money will be distributed, or which races will follow Dubai.