Last weekend, entertainment centre Smaaash organised India's first ever drone racing competition - the Smaaash Drone League. The two-day event was headlined by a drone racing competition, where amateur enthusiasts were invited to compete against each other on day one, and on day two, were joined by India's professional drone racers in an LED-strewn outdoor track for a complete racing extravaganza. Alongside, there were stalls for enthusiasts and kids to build their own Lego drones, interact with unconventional drones, and even purchase drones from the venue. Here's looking at how the Smaaash Drone League panned out.
Set in the open parking lot of Kamala Mills, Mumbai, the Smaaash Drone League was held over two days. The LED-strewn track played host to a bunch of customised, LED-smothered drones by professional and amateur-enthusiast drone racers alike. Taking part in India's first notable drone racing extravaganza were individuals like Siddharth Nayak, Raman Verma and others - India's first representative at international drone racing competitions.
Seen here: Contestants take charge of their drones and FPV (first-person view) goggles during the very first round of qualification. Each drone is equipped with cameras, and it can be incredibly dizzying to see through the FPV goggles while flying the drones. This adds to the difficulty of drone racing, and demands hours of intense practice.
Three drones line up alongside each other to take off for a qualifying lap to post a time. The qualifiers had a head start when the final race began. The tricky bit, as explained on the venue by an enthusiast, was to get a controlled but fast start. A reckless start almost always leads to a crash, and with probabilities of crashing so high, racing drones demand very precise controls.
However, as Pranav Anand, heading the Drone League's build-your-own-drone counter elucidated, drones are not always airborne. Flying drones are UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), while on-ground drones enable a widely diverse range of functions. Seen here is the Parrot drone, which was hooked up with a remote controller to navigate an obstacle course.
Similar to Parrot was Ollie, which you can buy in pairs for a game of drone hockey. Much like robot wars, Ollie was hooked up with its controller, and could be used to chase a puck around to win a game of Drone Hockey. It is essentially Air Hockey with remote controls, and while that may seem rather simple, it is actually very difficult.
The games mentioned before are what the organisers hope will increase interest among individuals in general to buy, fiddle and engage with drones. There are a wide range of applications, most of which will, for now, remain recreational in India as laws remain obscure. Seen here is the DIY drone counter at Smaaash Drone League, where kids were encouraged to build their own LEGO drones.
This is the Hover camera, and was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018. The Hover is a foldable drone with a rechargeable battery, and is equipped with a front-facing camera that recognises hand gestures. It can track individuals, take selfies and even front-facing videos. Unsurprisingly, there was a sudden rush of people looking to try it out, and enquire if it could be bought in India.
PS: The Hover selfie drone is not available in India, officially. You can still import one, if you just cannot do without it.
The trickiest element, and the most important bit about drone flying that was taught extensively at the Drone League workshops is mastering the controller. The remote controls are highly sensitive, and as a result, take a while before one can get considerable control over flying a drone.
But, even from a recreational point of view, drones are expensive, for now. A basic unit of the LEGO drones cost about Rs. 12,000 to begin with, which makes it a considerably expensive investment for a hobby. Nevertheless, as Anand stated, there was a wide amount of interest among visitors, and despite the cost, many queued up to purchase units. These actions, as the organisers hope, will possibly lead to the growth of India's drone racing community.
We are, however, still a long way from establishing drone racing as a mainstream sport. Despite a good beginning, it remains restricted in popularity and participation. The first edition of Smaaash Drone League, as a result, was all about setting a precedent in enthusiasm behind drones in general. A camera-equipped drone, as seen here, was hands-down the most favourite of everyone, paired with FPV goggles.
They are, however, mighty difficult to control.
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