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Shenzhen International Drone Race - World First Aquatic Course With Notable Issues

The “D1 Asia Cup” in Shenzhen, China. With the world’s first aquatic course and live streams of high-quality FPV footage, there has been much fanfare surrounding this tournament, and this report is here to get insights of what made the blogosphere explode.

The international drone race, “D1 Asia Cup” was held in Shenzhen, China, on August 13th.

The world’s first nighttime aquatic course wasn’t only a glittering performance of lights and sounds, but also made headlines with its high-quality FPV (first person view) video live stream when drones were fitted with the latest video transmission devices.

24 teams competed in the event, representing countries such as Japan, China, and South Korea, as well as other Asian nations like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

This writer participated in this tournament represented Singapore, and while it could be said that one of the great successes of this tournament was the “entertainment” value provided for media and spectators alike, it was also picked up over “sports” issues such as fairness and transparency.


The “Show” - A drone race enjoyed by spectators

The D1 Asia Cup was held in the major drone producer DJI’s hometown of Shenzhen in a popular up-and-coming commercial district, and was packed with people who had come to watch.

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The crowd that was waiting for a show to start was caught in a drizzle

Many shows were in line for the pre-race wait and during intervals throughout this tournament so there was no time for spectators and viewers at home to be bored.

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The day was such a hit and had the crowd on its feet

One of these shows was a formation flight of 15 drones. The performance was put on by a drone service company from Singapore, and involved LEDs mounted to the drones flashing in time to music while the drones changed formation.

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Synchronized Drones flying show

The crowds who were catching their first ever glimpse of multiple drones in formation with lights synchronized to the music gave cheers of joy.

On top of this, a very popular presenter and giveaways that included mini drones were included to entice audiences.

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The audience cheers at the entertainment showing between races

Even during the races themselves, the sight of drones rushing through courses with lights glittering on the water made audiences gasp, and you could feel the raw energy from the stands.

Although I have participated in several international drone racing tournaments, including the World Drone Prix, this is the first time that I’ve seen an event captivate it’s audience to this extent.

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These girls were covering the race live on their smartphones using Snapchat

Lack of transparency and fairness as a sport

On the other hand, from the perspective of the participants, this tournament failed to secure any level of fairness or transparency and was picked up by a number of sporting issues.

The format of this tournament consisted of a group stage with 6 teams in each group performing 6 laps each. The top 2 teams from each group then progressed to the finals, which featured 8 teams in total.

In the beginning, the rule was that each drone had to pass through all the gates in the course, however as passing through certain gates (such as those behind buildings) would interfere with the live feeds, this rule was changed to give permission to miss some specific gates.

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One of the favourites for this race , South Korea’s Kim Min Chan - His drone crashed and sank after some FPV footage transmission issues

However, the change in these rules caused a great deal of confusion, meaning that during the heats, while there were those that did leave out all the gates, there were also those that passed through some of them as instructed. Many competed in the heats not knowing whether they should pass through all the gates or not at all.

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Competitors confused over the sudden rule change

Another negative factor was the manual race timer. In other drone races, it has been the norm to use a sensor to time the race. This gives transparency in race results. However, in this tournament, they timed races manually, using people, and as the race was also conducted at night, it was impossible to ascertain who was in which place at times. Yet the finalists were still selected using this unreliable data.

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Waiting for the race

Although in the rules it was stated that the top 2 teams from each group would progress to the finals, in one group it wasn’t the top 2, but the 3rd and the 4th team that were allowed to progress. Although the first 2 teams did make a formal appeal, the result was upheld and the 3rd and 4th team dubiously allowed to participate in the finals.

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Many racers found their FPV transmission blocked, forcing them to crash into the water - Many participants had to fish their drones out after the race

Many teams were displeased that such dubious finalists had been allowed to progress to the finals so easily and the tournament was criticized on social media as a “race that lacked professionalism” and “a show rather than a race”. The tournament is still finding itself in the midst of controversy.

In particular, South East Asian teams got biased judges and many pilots from the region who expressed a wish to not associate with and boycott any races run by the same organizers in the future.

Furthermore, some prize winners even admitted that they were “unhappy to win in such a way”. It seems there was a general consensus of dissatisfaction among the participants.

Overcoming issues to develop drone racing further

This tournament is guilty of spending too much time on showmanship and not enough time on race rules and equipment.

Not only did the tournament organizers’ introduction of completely untested new video transmission devices, vagueness over rules, and use of manual timing make the participants unhappy, it actually led to the boycott of future races.

The organizers now have the urgent task of explaining themselves to all the contenders to regain their trust for future events.

Races are equally created by both organizers and participants. If participants are not given enough consideration, they will lose trust in organizers and refuse to compete in further events. This doesn’t just apply for the organizers of this tournament, but for the organizers of every tournament.

Drone races are full of possibilities on both a sporting and entertainment level. We hope the organizers of this event will take a constructive approach to regaining the trust of competitors


Translated by Carley Radford



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