DRONES have gained popularity as a tool for work and leisure, but the latest advancements have given them a new purpose – first person view (FPV) drone racing.
A live video feed streamed onto a wireless goggle headset for the pilot gives one the feel of sitting in a cockpit of a fighter jet.
The pilots may look calm as they remotely control the drones, but the adrenaline rush is said to be equal to that of motor and extreme sports.
These mean machines weighing some 500gm produce up to 1.2kg of thrust and soar up to 160km/h on the straightaways of some courses.
It is a step up from using them to film videos, capture aerial photos and for leisure flying. This sport demands precise input from the pilots as they manoeuvre the drones on obstacle-laden courses.
Drone racing is fast gaining popularity in many countries with ongoing professional leagues and even a world championship.
Realising its potential, 2 Cool Productions Sdn Bhd and MultiGP Malaysia, rights holder to the Malaysian chapter of US-based drone racing league MultiGP, have collaborated to run the Ecoworld MultiGP Drone Racing Championship 2016, which takes place today and tomorrow.
“Drone racing is not just a fun hobby, it is becoming a legitimate sport in Malaysia. This is why we are encouraging and promoting it,” said 2 Cool Productions managing director Mark Chua.
Eco World Development Group Bhd has stepped in as title and venue sponsor for the four-leg championship.
“Anyone who grew up watching Star Wars knows about these vehicles. Rather than just seeing them, you actually get to experience a first-person view of flying it. This is the future we are in now,” said Eco World executive director Liew Tian Xiong.
“Our motto is about always looking towards creating for the future. Although it is a niche sport now, we believe it may not be so for long.
“As a company that is growing, we are thankful to be given this opportunity to grow together with this sport,” he added.
The following rounds of the championship will be held at Eco Tropics, Pasir Gudang, Johor, in October; Eco Gardens, Ijok, Selangor, in November and finally Eco Terrace, Paya Terubong, Penang, in January next year.
The organisers have taken measures to comply with safety requirements and international guidelines for the competition at the mixed development project of Bukit Bintang City Centre (BBCC), Kuala Lumpur.
It has been sanctioned by the Drone Racing Association of Malaysia (DRAM), Malaysia Unmanned Drones Activist Society and the Drone Sports Association.
Fifty-one participants will take part in the two-day event which starts with free practice and qualifying rounds today from 9.30am to 5.30pm. The top 32 participants will then race in the knockout stages from 9am to 5.30pm tomorrow.
The race has added significance, especially for local pilots, as it doubles as the National Qualifiers for the World Drone Racing Cham-pionship in Hawaii, United States, in October.
While the first round will predominantly feature Malaysians battling in the National Qualifiers, competitors from Brunei and Singapore will also enter the fray for BBCC championship points and cash prizes.
The top five Malaysians from the BBCC leg will qualify to represent the country in the world championships, where 150 pilots from 30 countries will compete for a piece of the US$200,000 (RM800,000) cash purse.
MultiGP Malaysia race and operations director Adam Lokman, who is also DRAM chairman and BBCC’s 300m course designer, said it was not the fastest track but a narrow and technical one.
“It is a short, zippy one, and we also have a tower which is a crossover section. One part of the track crosses on top and another part of it crosses underneath it,” he said.
He said while pilots fly their drones on the straight at about 120km/h and complete a lap in around 40 seconds, they are limited to 4.6m from ground level in a controlled environment.
The event is open to the public and admission is free. There will also be drone demonstrations and a netted arena for the public at BBCC to try their hand at FPV drone flying along with flying simulators, a Bagjump trampoline and a Sky Rider.