There’s no question the Drone Racing scene is expanding. Businesses are setting up ‘drone’ areas of their websites, event organizers are making large scale investments in commercial races. Drone racing is a THing. But from it’s modest roots in the Maker / Technology community, are we sure it’s growing in a way that will benefit the community, the pilots, and the businesses growing up around it?
When drone racing started, all craft were built by hand, using parts from other projects and areas of interest. As the sport has gained popularity (and the flipside of the personal drone area, commercial photography), businesses have sprung up specifically to service racers and photographers. Drones are getting more sophisticated, more capable, and perhaps more alarmingly, moving away from their roots. Pilots are showing up at races flying their store-bought craft, and inexperienced photographers are flying commercial drones without the basic skills and awareness necessary to keep themselves, their craft, and bystanders safe.
It’s important for us as race enthusiasts and also industry professionals to not lose the connection with the tech / hobbiest / maker community. Even though the hobbyists aren’t the bread and butter driving large businesses to success, but they are the foundation on which everything else is built. Many of the commercial suppliers do make sure they have equipment and gear for the hobbyists, but there is a feeling that the large manufacturers and the “semi professional” professional racing circuit is leaving the self-built pilots behind. Recent commercial races involved equipment not available to most pilots, as well as custom built drones the pilots had no hand in designing or building.
Perhaps we should step back a bit, and make sure that this headlong rush into making Drone Racing “Just like Nascar” (and we’ve all heard it) may be a bit premature, and may end up cutting off the very thing that makes this sport appealing. Anyone can race, anyone can build their craft and participate, and anyone can be competitive. It’s important to take these things into account as the sport grows. Don’t leave out the little guys, don’t leave the hobbyists, the makers, and the starry eyed kids behind by making drones so expensive only well off adults can ever consider competing.
Don’t lose sight of your roots, community. Encourage kids, encourage schools, encourage new pilots to build and to learn. And manufacturers – keep these folks in mind when designing products. Small, inexpensive, and maintainable should be right up there with fast, expensive and exciting. Even Corvette drivers probably owned a Toyota Tercel at one point in their life!
And race organizers – Be inclusive. When setting up races, allow for junior pilots to participate. It’s not just about the hot shot pilots doing barrel rolls on every turn. It’s about a sport that everyone can and should be able to participate in. Let them come!