Edmonton drone racers hope their hobby lifts off
Quadcopters weaving through trees can provide a nauseating view to goggle wearers
At first glance, the string of lawn chairs at the edge of a park in Edmonton looks like the kind of scene that's found at fields throughout Canada in the summer.
Except this four-person group isn't watching a competition, they are in one.
They are gripping remote controls, and wearing goggles that allow them to see a feed from the perspective of the drones they are flying.
It can be a nauseating view as the machines weave around and through treetops and fly under a one metre wide foam arch that has been set up on the ground as an obstacle.
"It is an escape from life," says Ryan Nair.
"When you are in the goggles, you are in your own world. Your focus is what you [are] seeing, where you are going and how you are going to get there."
Nair is part of an Edmonton group that meets weekly to fly their drones, or quadcopters as these models are also called,
They say some of these drones cost about $500. With additional gear, including goggles, these enthusiasts are looking at $1,200 to $1,500 to get their hobbies off the ground.
Since their drones weigh less than two kilograms and are being flown as a hobby, the fliers don't need a Transport Canada licence. However, Edmonton requires that anyone flying a remote controlled aircraft in a park have a city permit.
This group doesn't have one, but Nair insists they are taking all the necessary precautions. When there are other people in the park, the drone users appoint a spotter to ensure the machines don't get too close.
"We don't want to hurt anyone," he says. "We don't want to give this hobby a bad name."
The hobby is new, and they are hoping to attract more people to it. This coming weekend in Edmonton more than 20 racers have signed up to take part in the Canadian Drone Racing Championship Cup, which is being held as part of the city's annual exhibition, K-Days.
"It is a good opportunity for us to promote and showcase what drone racing is," says Steve Cordyban, one of the event's organizers.
If you are trying to get better, then you are always going to be crashing and breaking stuff.- Travis Ames, drone racing enthusiast
Cordyban says this weekend's event is one of the first major ones in Western Canada. The competition carries a $1,000 cash purse, which is minuscule compared to the $1 million awarded at the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai last March. The first place team, led by a 15-year-old from the U.K., won $250,000.
Aficionados see drone racing as a way to combine a passion for sport with technology. Travis Ames says he got into it after watching a YouTube video and now hopes to profit from it by selling drone racing starter kits.
He estimates he spends 40 hours a week building drones from parts he has ordered from Hong Kong.
"I always like to build those drones that go as fast as they can go," Ames says. To get better, you have to push the limits, he adds.
As he sits back in his lawn chair with the group in Edmonton, they all push some limits. There are several mid-race collisions as the drones zip through the air. A couple of times a drone hits a tree and plunges to the ground.
"If you are trying to get better, then you are always going to be crashing and breaking stuff."