‘Night Drone Racing’ made a pulsating debut in Territory India, landing first in Namma Bengaluru on Friday. Directed by 23 pilots from across the nation, the remote-controlled aerial vehicles breezed through obstacles at bizarre speeds, as India’s largest drone race left an emphatic footprint.
Back in Europe and the United States, drone-racing is huge, beckoning fans in their millions. But in India, Friday was time to take the biggest baby step. Video goggles hooked to their eyes, their hands firmly on the controllers, the pilots were ready to go. A motley crowd sat riveted for action.
Brilliantly lit up, right outside the Bangalore Palace hosting the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2018, the square and rectangular-shaped obstacles looked formidable. But trained for hours and days, the young drone pilots were raring to go. And they did, as the quad-copters fitted with flashy LED lights and customised cameras flew past at speeds hitting 150 kmph and more.
The nano and mid-sized drones, weighing 250g and more, first conquered the heights, hitting 20-30ft, before the hi-speed fly-throughs. “But even at these speeds, the drone camera gives first-person view to the pilot, controlling from the ground station,” explained an Indian Drone Racing League (IDRL) racer.
Qualification meant the pilots had to first get their drones past three laps, going through over 20 obstacle ‘gates.’ “The live video feeds from the drone guided our path. It was tough yet exciting. After hours and hours of practice, we had to aim for precision. We had to keep the drones light and fast, agile and race-worthy,” explained Latesh Galia, now in his fourth IDRL race.
After the semis and finals, the prize money of Rs 5 lakh beckoned. But for Mumbaikar Siddharth Nayak, India’s drone-racing leaderboard topper, it was more about those precious points. A top gold fetched 15 points, a silver 12 points and a bronze, nine. Staying in the lead meant how well you manoeuvred, how fast and precise your customised drones were.
For Monish D V, a city-based drone pilot, the Friday race was just the right way to go. “I returned from the US recently. Drone-racing is extremely big back there. Here, it is catching on, and will surely get bigger,” he felt.
Galia could see it coming. He offered the numbers to prove: “Two years ago, there were only 10 to 12 drone racing pilots in the entire country. Today there are hundreds registered on our groups,” said he, rushing out for his next flight.
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