Photo credit: Ang Wei Jun

Drone racing is the new kid on the competitive sports block

How much money are you willing to spend for a hobby?

Grace Neo

Published: 7 June 2017, 2:36 PM

Drone racing is an expensive hobby, but the thousand-dollar price tag has not stopped many youths from picking up the sport.

While the local leisure drone-flying community has approximately 10,000 members, these youths have their eyes set on the more competitive side of flying drones.

Youth.SG dropped by a training session at an open field along Holland Road to find out more about the drone racing community, even as they prepared to take part in the first indoor drone race in Singapore this June.

Jake Goh, 25, entered the community six years ago when drone technology was still fresh, and observed how racing drones have evolved over the years.

Jake showing us the live feed from the drone using an LCD monitor.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) student said: “With drones becoming smaller and hence sturdier today, the cost of every crash is reduced.”

Despite the advancement of technology however, nothing can save a drone when crashed into a concrete wall. 17-year-old Aerospace engineering student Jerriel Wai painfully recalled how his drone, costing approximately $300, shattered in front of him during an indoor training session.

“My whole drone was gone. I had to scrap it and buy a new one,” the drone enthusiast recounted with a hint of sadness in his voice.

Jerriel went from playing around with a $15 drone to owning 4 drones, each costing about $300.

The passion for drone flying is often tied with a curiosity for engineering. As every First Person View (FPV) racing drone is generally self-assembled, each racer has their own desired specifications to personalise their drones.

SUTD engineering product development student Ang Wei Jun, 23, shared some creative manufacturing techniques he experimented with.

“I tried 3D-printing frames for the drone, while my seniors once tried building a one-wing drone,” he said.

Jake and Jerriel are among 30-50 pilots who will be participating in the indoor race held at White Sands on Jun 24. PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/GRACE NEO

Such passion for drone racing has helped these youths overcome the restrictions on training grounds; operators are prohibited from flying within 5km of infrastructure such as prisons and airports. As such, these drone racers often find themselves training at far flung places across the island.

For more serious training, the pilots also fly indoors. Deon shared: “There is a condominium car park which we use sometimes when there are no cars at all.”

Despite such restrictions and the apparent heavy costs involved in the hobby, drone racing is beginning to be recognised as an extreme sport internationally. Many of the youths we met aspire to be professional drone racers, excitedly recounting how a 15-year-old won $310,000 (£174,000) in the world-renowned World Drone Prix in 2016.

Jerriel said: “I mean, who doesn’t want to be paid for doing what you love?”

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