In both the domestic Japanese and international drone communities there has been a lot of excited talk concerning a drone race to be held in March 2016 in Dubai which promises to offer the largest sum of prize money ever offered: $1,000,000. Later in the year the World Drone Racing Championships are also due to be held in Hawaii, marking 2016 as a year absolutely packed with drone racing events.
Drone races let you get a taste of a thrill that you would normally not get in everyday life, and once you’ve had that first tastel, it’s very difficult to stop. But you have to build your own racing drone (link), making this first hurdle an expensive one to clear. To build your own racing drone and also set up a controller and monitor you are already looking at a bill of over $800, raising this hurdle of cost even further.
It’s very difficult to put together a complete racing drone, controller, and monitor set
That’s why in this article I would like to introduce a way in which there is no need to build your own racing drone and that still lets you experience drone racing for a fraction of the cost. This is something that absolutely anybody can try out at home, so you should definitely give it a go if you get the chance. This way should give you a true taste of what drone racing is like.
And that is by controlling a drone on your computer using a drone simulator. This writer has only started using the term “drone simulator” quite recently, but when you control this drone it’s almost exactly the same kind of feeling I get when piloting actual racing drones and I was surprised that the skills you can pick up by using this simulator can be applied quite well to when you race a drone in real life.
Just as airlines often train their pilots in the piloting of jumbo jets by using simulators, it’s thought that training using them is very effective.
All you need is a computer and a USB joypad for gaming.
You should select a controller that has a left and right joystick. I use an ELECOM myself (JC-U3312S series, approx. $25). I bought mine at Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara.
This product is made for computers that run Windows and doesn’t mention anything about compatibility with Macs, but when I tried mine on a Mac it worked without problems.
The ELECOM gaming joypad that even works on Mac
The simulator that I’m going to write about today is the “FPV Freerider” simulator. Below I’ll show you in detail how to install the simulator and configure the controls.
FPV Freerider overview and how to play
As FPV Freerider is something that can be played from a free edition, this is a simulator that is very easy on your wallet.
There is already an active community for FPV Freerider on Facebook and you can match your times against people from all over the world. There is a paid-for version, but even that only costs $4.99, which is a very reasonable price.
The main difference between the free and charged version of the simulator is the addition of more detailed controller settings. It’s possible to have much more finely-tuned settings on the paid-for version. However, you can still get a good enough drone racing experience on the free edition too.
Step 1: Downloading FPV Freerider from the website
Download the free version of the simulator from the FPV Freerider and install it onto your computer.
The FPV Freerider website. Download the free version from the “Download demo” section
Step 2: Selecting your controller mode
Once installed, connect your joypad to the computer, open FPV Freerider, and select the controller mode. From “Touchscreen”, “Keyboard”, and “USB Controller”, select the “USB controller” option.
Select “USB Controller” from the options listed on the right-hand side of the screen
The touchscreen option is for smartphones, but as you can’t adjust the controls very finely it makes the drone difficult to pilot. I would never even think to use the keyboard as a controller here.
Step 3: Calibrating the controller
Next up is the controller calibration, and this is done by adjusting the input through moving the stick as told on-screen. If you adjust as instructed, you should become able to control the drone in Mode 2. Most people in Japan fly their drones on this mode, so if you simply follow the instructions then there shouldn’t be any problems. In mode 2 you move the left joystick up and down to make the drone rise and fall (throttle) and make it turn left or right on a horizontal plane (yaw). The up and down directions on the right-hand joystick make the drone move backwards or forwards (pitch), and left and right make the drone tilt clockwise or counter clockwise (roll).
*If using the JC-U3312S series, press the button in the center of the controller labelled “Mode”, and change the MODE LED light at the top from green to red.
Follow the instructions on the calibration screen to calibrate the controller
Step 4: Set so that the center point of the throttle is zero
When using joypads such as those made by ELECOM, choose “Throttle zero at center.” The throttle controls the rising and falling of the drone.
For joypads such as those made by ELECOM, set them to “Throttle zero at center”
Step 5: Selecting a course
Once the controller has been calibrated, choose the course that you want to fly your drone on.
The easiest course for beginners is “desert.”
Choose “desert” for the course that goes easiest on beginners
Before flying the course you should check your flight mode, input levels, and camera
Step 6: Selecting a flight mode
First select your flight mode. For the very top button on the left you can select either “Self-leveling” or “Acro mode.” Self-leveling is probably the best mode for beginners. This mode allows for the drone to automatically stay level, while Acro mode means you have to keep the drone level yourself. Acro mode will allow for more nimbler flying, so this mode is better for when you’re doing time attacks.
Select your flight mode: Start with Self-leveling then work your way to Acro mode
Step 7: Selecting the input levels
There are two options for input levels, “High rate” and “Low rate”, and you should start with Low rate first. This mode decides the level of response by the drone to the input from your controls. If you set it to high rate then the drone will respond to the most minute movements, making flying more difficult. This is a mode that would be great to challenge yourself with when doing time attacks.
Selecting input levels - It’s better to start from a low rate first
Step 8: Selecting your viewpoint
There are 2 camera modes, one is “FPV (view from the done)” and one is “Pilot view (from the ground).” Since you want to experience FPV racing, you should select the first option.
Experiencing the thrill of FPV drone racing
This completes our drone racing preparation. Now, let’s get flying!
Though it may seem surprisingly difficult, the more you practice, the easier it will get, so please be patient. The intuition and skills acquired through this training will come in very handy one day for the real thing.
Reaching for the top - Drone race time attacks
Now it’s time to explain the concept of “time attacks” to those of you who have mastered the controls.
On the right-hand side of the course screen there is a button that says “Timed race.” If you click this button a time attack will begin. There are time attack options of 1, 3, and 5 laps.
If you click “Timed race” on the right-hand side of the screen you can do time attacks
The fastest time in the world recorded for 1 lap of the desert course is 5.16 seconds. You can see how your competitors across the world are doing by checking out the rankings on the “FPV Freerider Leaderboard” on the Facebook community. My best time for 1 lap of the desert course is 7.02 seconds by the way and is currently ranked 7th on the leaderboard.
The top 10 times (for 1 lap of the desert course) on the FPV Freerider Leaderboard are as follows:
There are now 400 members signed up to the FPV Freerider Leaderboard Facebook page
If you apply to join the FPV Freerider Leaderboard page on Facebook you should be accepted within a few days. Please sign up and good luck in your training for reaching the top.
Translated by Carley Radford