Drones

Gravity Goons Perspective of World Drone Prix 2016

The Good, The Bad, the Ugly. Published on behalf of Nelson “Kruel” Aquino, Team Manager for Gravity Goons.

I am the Team Manager for Gravity Goons and we were one of the lucky teams that were flown out to Dubai to participate in this awesome event. So if you care to see on my perspective of WDP 2016 please read on.

Let me start off by saying that the World Drone Prix was the most epic event in FPV Racing that has happened thus far. There is no comparison; the location, production value, and sheer scale of this monster event will be hard to match for a long time. That being said, and as everyone knows, it was not without its faults.

Let’s break this down into categories; I think the FPV Racing community as a whole has an idea of what a really good event should look like. Here are my categories.

  • Organization of Event Hosts
  • Production Value and Marketing
  • Venue
  • Race Format and Rules
  • Streaming and Commentary

Organization of Event Hosts

As far as I know, this event was heavily sponsored by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The government of Dubai wants to position themselves as leaders in technology and future sports entertainment.

The World Drone Prix was a second step in that direction, where they have hosted the “Drones for Good” event for the past 2 years, also awarding $1,000,000 for each of those events. The government created the World Organization for Racing Drones (WORD) who then in turn and in collaboration with the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) and Aerial Grand Prix (AGP) organizations from the U.S. created the World Drone Prix. The IDRA and AGP were used as consultants for the race and Film Masters actually built the track based on their input.

Despite gathering all these talents to organize the race, it all felt extremely rushed. The race was announced in December and then to be held in March..not sure why such a short timeline. It is unclear who created “The Code” and it seems like it was copied straight from F1 racing and then modified to fit Drones. Communication was scarce and sporadic, after the race was announced in December, there was little going on until Early-Mid February. The Rules were constantly modified and changed.

The original plan was to host qualifiers throughout the entire globe and on each continent. I believe they figured out doing that required a lot more time, organization and people. They changed it so then teams can submit videos in order to qualify for the event, and out of all those teams, 32 would be chosen to be flown out to Dubai. The rules were not clear enough, could you submit multiple teams? At first the pilot could not be replaced, and then he could be replaced by a back up pilot.

The race was 2 weeks away and no one knew who the qualified teams were. To further add to the confusion, WORD started sending out “Pre-Qualification Letters” to teams. At first, it was speculated that these would be the teams sponsored to go to Dubai, but was later revealed that this letter was sent to over 100 teams who were invited to attend the event, sponsored or not. The race was originally advertised as being scheduled to start on Mar 8th-9th qualifiers and 10th-11th race days.

Clarification was later sent out by WORD that the jury was still out on who the lucky 32 were going to be. Finally, on Feb 27th the 32 Teams were announced, to add to the craziness the schedule was changed and teams would have to be present on March 7th, just 10 days from when they actually found out they would be going.

Team Gravity Goons were actually at another event, Central Florida FPV Meet (CFL), when we found out, so we had another 3 days before we got home and got to work on getting ready to go. But things got crazier from there. More importantly, the technical details of the quads that needed to be built for the event were sorely lacking. Information came in bits and pieces and then changed. Information about the track, length, exact restrictions on battery size motor size frame size were convoluted and a bit confusing at first.

The looming elephant in the room, the 200 gram HD system that the quads needed to carry was also a big mystery. And mind you, this was just about a week before the teams had to hop on a plane.

Finally some information about the track and camera was released, it appeared like things were coming together with 5 days or so remaining, I spoke to several teams and ours included, who were building the night before and day of their flight to Dubai and barely got time to hover their machines before jumping on the plane to Dubai.

This continued even after the event started, rules changed the Code was updated to include some “battery boost” component to the race. 2-3 Days before it was released that VTXs would be provided and that teams needed to use UHF in the race but could use 2.4 in the qualifiers. It was chaos.

No one really took responsibility, AGP and IDRA reps stated that they warned the hosts about these issues and that communication should have been sent out much much earlier in a concise fashion. Overall this was one of the biggest problems of the event, but now that its over, we all hope lessons were learned and that future events are better in this aspect.

Not all was bad though, there were some huge wins.

First, the arriving sponsored teams were very well taken care of. Arriving at the airport and having someone hold that World Drone Prix sign was awesome to see. Getting through airport security and using the ambassadors’ or VIP immigration the World Drone Prix booth was also epic. We literally landed and were in baggage claim in 10 minutes. It was at that point that we realized that the amount of thought that was put into this was massive. Airport shuttles, shuttles to and from the event from the hotel were provided. The food vouchers were a great idea (although I am not sure why they had them per day, but still awesome). There was a video log booth at the hotel as well.

For organization I believe the WDP’16 got a: C+

Production Value and Marketing

From my understanding Film Masters was in charge of building the track, and boy, they did not disappoint! The production level of this event was over 9000! On the real race days the entire venue was just beautiful! They had a huge quad built out as a display, TVs and Simulators. A grand stand was made with hundreds of seats, the VIP areas had big TVs with goggles and plush white leather seats, a Mini track with LOS Syma racing, the team caves with their own cubby and locks, the badges and badge access areas, the security, the signage, the wooden 3D signs for the World Drone Prix and entrance gate was top notch. Everything about it was very high quality and very, very well done.

The build up to the race was also huge, the McLaren Vs Vortex video has a bunch of views and media response to the winners has been crazy. The Washington Post, CNN and other huge news outlets have provided some sort of coverage about this event. Local coverage was great, they had demos and booths local malls for days before the event, It was nationally televised. This is great for the sport as a whole! But the track is where the money was at…

Production Value and Marketing: A+

Venue

Directly tied into production and marketing and equally important is the actual Venue where the race is hosted. In this respect the WORD didn’t disappoint. Not only was it held in an exotic city, it was also in a beautiful venue. Skydive Dubai, which was both a blessing and a curse (more on this later). The venue sat as a small peninsula facing the marina. Across the water, a huge club played great music. During the day sky divers came over the crowd at 80 MPH before touching down in the field drawing constant ‘Oohs and Ahhs’. Rubber matting and carpeting was laid out, the lounge area could comfortably fit 20 teams as they waited their turn to qualify, food trucks and bathrooms were close by. The weather was (mostly) great.

Skydive Dubai Dropzone from above

It was perfect, good times with better friends! The reason why it was a curse was the following: on race days where the big outdoor track was used, everyone had to wait until the skydivers were done before they could fly. This means races started later on in the day and went long into the night (on race day 1 specially). Considering the pull the organizers had with the local government I wasn’t entirely sure as to why the race had to be held up by the Skydivers. In any case, that was a minor thing in an otherwise spectacular venue.

Venue Score: A+

Race Format and Rules

Here is where it gets hairy. Most races so far haven’t been enduro ‘Nasquad’ style races with pit stops. For the most part races take place in several heats with pilots getting many opportunities to fly. This wasn’t the case here. If you were BanniUK (who won the event) You would have gotten a total of 6-7 packs to fly, TOTAL, IN A WEEK. That is counting the qualifiers, races and finals, Maybe you can add 2-3 more if you did Freestyle as well. Teams were told to build F1 Quads, able to carry heavy payloads.

Some teams stuck to their 5” Setups, while a lot of teams brought 6 and even 7” set ups. But there was a small problem with that, the qualifying track as indoors, tight corners and spaces and was a FRACTION of the size of the track we were shown days before travelling. The qualifying track details were sent literally the night before the qualifiers, so if you didn’t have WiFi or mobile data, you probably couldn’t see the track, although information got around quickly once it was finally released. And they did had out some print outs.

Basically, you were told to race your F1 set up on a go kart track.

It’s not an excuse but I believe some teams would have done better if they were properly informed. In the crazy communications it was revealed that people could qualify with whatever quad they wanted to, but could only race with 2 identical quads.

This leads me to another point. Most people probably built quads just to come to the race, they were told the quads had to be identical and would go through inspection. Gravity Goons spared no expense, everything was bought double (or triple for spares) so the quads were identical. When it was our turn to get “inspected” all they did was pretty much check the C rating on our battery packs. Yes, the inspection was the stickers on the battery pack, some of the inspections were done by volunteers who didn’t know anything about quads…::sigh::

Back to racing, so now that we had to qualify on a completely different track practice was 2 minutes on day 1 of qualifiers, you literally had 2 minutes to fly and then 5 minutes to try and get the fastest lap you could. If you crashed you could have your pit crew pick up the quad and fix it for you. If you broke an arm or motor you were simply done, because the indoors was done over the same team caves that were to be used days later, over metal and hard concrete floor. The 2nd day wasn’t much better, You got 2 laps of practice (50 seconds?) and then you had to do 5 consecutive laps without crashing, in the event you did crash, you would have to be able to lucky enough to crash right side up and take off unassisted. Pit crew personnel could not assist in picking up the quad.

The bad thing about this format is this: The end result of having good and exciting races would be that everyone gets practice on the track, people start to get more comfortable and more competitive.

Another issue was at the qualifying track, they laid the timing sensors on the floor instead of on top of the gate facing down. Not a problem except for the fact that part of the track on the second level crossed over the timing gate again and it was reading some people’s laps twice. This caused confusion and slip ups. I messed up when I looked over and saw 5 laps on the counter and thought we were done, I started to celebrate and my pilot went a little too hard and crashed, turns out we were on the start of the 5th lap, not that we had completed 5 laps. While other people had 6 laps counted on the timing system because they crossed the gate twice.

And worst of all: times were not posted. At all. We still don’t know how close/far we were from qualifying; we don’t know how we did on day 1 or day 2. It would have been nice to know where we stood after each qualifier. Even the folks who qualified don’t know what the exact time of the fastest lap was (Everyone swore up and down that BanniUK also smashed that record but the Russian team (Ed: VS Mescheriakovset the fastest lap). I heard stories of qualified teams getting asked how many laps they had ran so far while at semi finals…(they didn’t have a timing system running? At the main race?!). This is a HUGE problem.

Furthermore for qualifiers: There was a 2 second penalty if you missed a gate, sounds great, but people were smarter then that and as cheesy as it might be it was actually quite smart. There was a slalom at near the end of the course. Some people decided to just skip the gates there; they would get a 2 second penalty but make up 4 seconds in time. So in essence it wasn’t a penalty at all…it was a shortcut or bonus. The thought didn’t even cross my mind, but some folks had the presence of mind to think about it. However all that does now is create precedence for people to try to game the system in every way possible for next time. Gates should be mandatory, having to turn around and go through them is penalty enough.

It’s like an F1 car skipping a U turn and cutting through the grass and gaining a bonus advantage instead of huge penalty. It doesn’t make sense.

For all the focus and attention to detail that was put into the venue and production and signage the most important part feels like it was overlooked: racing. This could have been done much much better.

Racing Format and Rules Grade: D

Streaming and Commentary

You’re still here? Good! As far as the streaming goes I can only go by what I can imagine was a terribly boring Day 1, it took them 8 hours to run 8 Races. People actually paid to sit the stands and they were empty by the 3rd race, which took 3 hours to get to. The magic HD box was giving them issues and people had issues with the video receivers which were incorrectly set up (Dual Clearviews on Oracle don’t work btw, all you need is a single Clearview or a normal Oracle set up, don’t combine the two as awesome as it sounds!).

On Race Day 1 they started off wrong, they kept the same epic build up music on repeat for hours, no one knew what colors the racers where or what position they were in. The pitting procedure made it even harder to follow. Hell, it was hard to follow being there in person! After the race started it was an odd silence, only with the announcer’s voice over the mic as he struggled to understand what was going on. When you have potentially millions of viewers (they projected 20 million viewers online, a figure that probably dropped dramatically after the first 15 minutes of watching nothing but the track) your streaming component is second only to the actual racing. Drone Nationals taught everyone that lesson!

They redeemed themselves the 2nd day though, the races were about 30 minutes in between, they brought in people who knew what they were talking about to commentate, and although they still couldn’t identify who was in what position, they at least tried to do it better. They started playing good music in between races and in a stroke of genius they placed mics throughout the track and played the sounds of the quads through the speakers. At that point it started to become more like F1 and the stands stayed a little bit fuller that time. For the redemption they did, it was kind of ruined at the end.

When the race was over it seemed like the Russians landed first and they started to yell and celebrate all while Banni and BrainDrain (Ed: team Dubai Dronetek – BrainDrain is the pilot) were still flying. To further kill the climax of the race, the winner was announced in the wrong order. First you announce the 3rd place and move your way up. They announced the winner went down, which is certainly a drama/climax killer.

All and all, considering all the events that have taken place in the last year, lessons should have been learned. And again I hope that the next event learns from these.

Streaming and Commentary grade: C-

Closing Thoughts:

Like I said at the start of what feels like a thesis paper, the event was by far the most epic, over the top and awesome thing ever done for FPV Racing. Given all that I know now and if I knew it would be the same way again, I would still attend, if only to hang out with everyone which is the best part of all!

I truly hope that the organizers learned valuable lessons with this event and apply those great changes they come up with on the fly to the next one. Lets start with the communication: When and where is the next event? And can I come?

Thanks for reading everyone!

Editor: You can learn more about Gravity Goons and watch their pilots in action at GravityGoons.com 

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