Saturday, October 3, 2015

Country’s first international drone race takes off

Malaysia’s first international drone race took off to a flying start with 31 competitors from three countries racing to compete for RM32,000 worth of attractive prizes for the three categories.

The racers had to race through a 160-metre tight, twisting circuit, negotiating four air-gates and four air-flags in groups of three per class heat.

Air-gates are domes installed on the ground of about five feet high and10 feet wide and the drones have to go under these, while air flags are flag poles marking the turning points of the circuit.

“The racers are divided into three categories based on the airframe size of the drones.

“So they are the 250, 330 and 450 categories with the 250 class being the top category,” explained Hamdi Hamdan the race director.

“The racers go through qualifying time trials and then they compete in the finals and the championship,” Hamdi added.

They race five laps of the circuit, three or four at a time.
Hamdi Hamdan

The race is under the US-based Aerial Grand Prix franchise and is organized here under the Drone Malaysia association.

Hamdi explained that these types of drones are put together by enthusiasts.

The enthusiasts he said would buy the airframes, motors, propellers, flight controllers, ‘first person view’ cameras and monitors, video transmitters and receivers and whole bunch of stuff and they put all these together to build a racing drone.

However, he wasn’t quite happy with the number of competitors.

“Considering the number of enthusiasts for these type of drones around the country, the number of competitors for this first race, was disappointing,” he said.

“We also didn’t get much support from local businesses like the distributors and retailers of components and systems,” Hamdi added.

“Maybe they adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude,” he said.

Hamdi however expressed gratitude to component distributors from Singapore who sponsored free parts such as propellers and other items for the competitors.

The races were given one day to practice on September 26th while the race proper was  held on a haze-enveloped sky on September 27th, but that didn’t cloud the enthusiasm of the competitors.

This inaugural race was held at a Universiti Malaya field but Hamdi is intending to have next year’s race in a covered location incase of inclement weather.

“We have a longer time-frame to organize next year’s event and we hope for more local and regional participants,” Hamdi said.

In the meantime, he and his team hope to organize races around the country and aim to put together a national drone-racing league.

Present at the event was drone NGO, Malaysia Unmanned Drones Activist Society or MUDAS.
MUDAS is in the forefront to promote safe drone flying ever since aerial footage of airliners landing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport shocked the nation.
Haidar Abu Bakar

“We’re working with the authorities to put together a framework to promote responsible and safe operation of drones, particularly for those who operate them as a hobby for photography and videography,” said Haidar Abu Bakar of MUDAS.

“The racing hobbyists here are OK; they don’t fly high, they practice and complete away from the public, but it’s the guys who buy drones fitted with cameras like the popular Phantom series of quadcopters that we are worried about,” Haidar added.

“They have to be made aware of the existing regulations, such as flying below 400 feet, not to fly above crowds and heavy traffic and away from tall buildings and no-fly zones,” he added.
“All too often these commonsense guidelines are ignored and it’s important to have some measure of regulation to prevent untoward incidents and accidents,” he said.

Taking top prize for the inaugural race was Worassorn Subsri from Thailand who competed in the main 250 class.

Worassorn Subsri
“This is my first ever drone race; I’ve never even competed in any local race in Thailand, so I am surprised and happy,” said the 35-year-old who took up the hobby just six months ago although he was flying RC helicopters before then.

He came away with the coveted DJI Phantom S900, a six-rotor drone capable of carrying a payload of 8.2kg. What this means is that it can carry high-end cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix GH4.

Just the frame itself costs RM6,000.00.

“Drone racing is getting to be a popular sport around the world and our ambition is to organise an Asian championship one day,” Hamdi said.

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