Remote-control racers to take to the sky in first-ever Canadian Drone Nationals

Aviva West
Daily Brew

Racers and remote-control aficionados alike will gather in Collingwood, Ont., this weekend to mark the first-ever Canadian Drone Nationals.

More than 100 people from all over Canada and the United States have already signed up to pilot first-person view (FPV) racing drones at the tournament that runs Friday to Sunday.

Organizer David French from RacingFPV.com says he isn’t surprised by the enthusiasm for the event but he is excited to introduce drone racing to new crowds.

“Once you get in and you put these [goggles] on, it’s like an out of body experience,” he says. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. People try it and get hooked.”

Drone racing, sometimes called Rotorcross, involves participants controlling drones equipped with cameras while wearing goggles that allow them to view what the drone sees. The goal of the race is to complete an established course as quickly as possible without crashing or colliding into another drone.

The first-ever U.S. Drone Nationals were held last month in California, and plans are already underway for future events in British Columbia and Hawaii.

Able to reach speeds of up to 100 km/h, racing drones are much lighter and smaller than the types of drones used in police or military operations. Racing models complete with camera and goggles can cost anywhere from $300-$2,000. The races will be livestreamed on twitch.tv/DroneOnFPV.

The competition, known as the Fat Shark Frenzy, features five classes of races and promises “blade-to-blade battles.” A similar event was held in Collingwood last year; however, this is the first year professionally timed races will be held and a champion crowned.

French says there are thousands of dollars worth of prizes to be won, including giveaways for spectators planning to watch the events.

“Safety is our priority,” he says.

“We have a course in a contained space that is well-marked and pilots and the public are all behind the line-of-sight area. We’re trying to follow the same rules as a model aviation club.”

As drones become cheaper and easier to control, concerns about their use have also grown. Drone use is regulated by Transport Canada and Special Flight Operations Certificates are required to operate models that weigh more than 35 kilograms.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that weigh less than two kilograms — like racing drones — do not require a Special Flight Operations Certificate. However, a long list of exemptions must be followed, including a requirement for $100,000 in liability insurance.

“Transport Canada just wants to make sure safety is a priority and we understand that,” French says. “The event is fully insured and we are taking every precaution.”