FPV Racing Classes: Specialized Vs. Unrestricted

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What is the difference between FPV Racing Classes.

In this article, I will examine both the advantages and disadvantages of having strict specifications for FPV racing class. This type of standardization allows pilots to compete in a more organized way.

What is the Nature of a Racing Category?

In drone racing, FPV racing class is a distinct subcategory which has its own set of regulations to adhere to. There is a broad range of FPV racing classes, each one tailored to a specific level of experience, skill or constraints. The two most popular racing classes are open class and spec classes.

Loosely Structured Classroom Environment

Open class FPV racing is the most prevalent in the hobby. It is characterized by a range of specifications including 5″-6″ propellers, a six-cell battery limit and a maximum frame size (~250mm diagonally from motor to motor). Various leagues may use slight modifications to these rules, but they are more or less the same. Open class drones boast tremendous speed and maneuverability. This open FPV racing class permits a lot of progress and invention. Racers will frequently adjust their open class drones for greater speed, strength and agility.

Specialized Course (Precise Requirements)

Spec racing is an FPV racing classification with exacting design criteria. The rules for the motors, frames, software, and even the entire drone can be dependent on the racing league. For example, the Drone Championship League (DCL) has quite stringent specifications, while the Drone Racing League (DRL) requires only the LED colors and the pilot’s camera angle to differ between crafts.

Contrasting Open and Specified Course Types

When contrasting spec racing and open, there are several considerations for each class and its own benefits. These points of discussion consist of:

Level of Difficulty in Academic Courses

Competitiveness among students in classes can be a significant factor in the level of difficulty experienced in academic courses.

A photograph of a FPV racing class is presented in the image below. FPV racing class

The main point in favour of spec racing is that it can be more competitive than open. Open class enables pilots to tinker around with different setups to search out the fastest, most dependable, or long-lasting combination. In some cases, a pilot might have an advantage with a craft that has been modified more extensively. Specifying a list of accepted components, though, reduces the possibility of further development, making the competition more about skill than the money spent on the drone. If we look at a Formula-1 race versus a Formula-2 race, where the cars are standardised, we can see that Formula 2 races can be more enjoyable to watch as the drivers must continually fight for position rather than having the same results throughout the season. A spec FPV racing class could have the same outcome as the main performance gains would come from the pilot. Standardising components also implies that one does not need to be an engineer to test and find a good setup. Going one step further, the firmware settings could be standardised too, making the whole process simpler for first-time pilots. This would be advantageous for beginners as it takes time to learn how to tune, particularly given the complexity of Betaflight.

The Price of Admission

The implementation of a specialised FPV racing class could potentially reduce the cost of entering competitive racing, as a top tier open class 5″ race quad can cost more than $300. This is an expensive amount for some, particularly if they need to purchase or construct multiple alternative quads as backups. By specifying more affordable components or organising a group purchase from manufacturers, the cost of the hobby could be reduced. I believe this would be beneficial for aspiring pilots who don’t have the financial resources or the backing of a major sponsor, such as those of the professionals. Furthermore, spec racing ensures that each quad will be competitive, eliminating the requirement to test different set-ups to find the most suitable. This is ideal for beginners who lack the experience to opt for the best components when competing in an open class series.

Speed Contests

Running at a competitive rate is referred to as racing pace. It is the rate that athletes strive to maintain during a race in order to perform at their best.

Overall, spec FPV racing classes typically operate at a lower speed than the 5″ open class, but this is not necessarily a negative. Since the drones are slower, pilots can make up for the lack of speed with improved technique. For instance, consistent practice can easily result in a reduction of half a second or more in double gate time. In my experience, this can be taken full-throttle like a corkscrew if the right stick movements are figured out. This smooth motion is far faster than my initially choppy approach. Slower drones force racers to prioritize precision and consistency, while still allowing for the occasional ‘send it’ to attempt to pass the leader on the last lap. If a person can fly a 5″ open quad accurately and consistently, they can expect to remain competitive in a spec FPV class. Additionally, low-speed racing helps reduce the chance of damage and increases the life span of batteries, ESCs, and motors.

Getting Observers Involved

The primary benefit to a spec FPV racing class is that the more competitive nature makes it much more enjoyable to watch. Multiple drone racing leagues have been created, several of which are broadcasted or streamed live. The two most prominent are DCL and DRL, both of which use spec drones. Although both leagues utilize spec drones, DCL has stricter regulations which include the mandatory use of LED strips to improve visibility and an action camera mount. At the 2018 FAI World Drone Championship, regulations dictated that competitors had to use high definition video links on their craft. This added an extra layer of entertainment for the audience, as they could watch the race through the HD feeds or track-side cameras. Pilots running open class usually won’t bother with action cameras or HD video streaming links due to the added weight.

Advances in Technology

The development of technology has been ongoing, with more and more innovations being made every day. This progress has greatly affected many aspects of our lives, from communication to transportation. As the technology continues to improve, the potential for further growth is limitless.

One major issue I see with many spec FPV racing classes is that it takes away the requirement to progress. Racing is a great environment to develop and spec racing eliminates the possibility of personal advancement. This makes it difficult to gain an advantage from anything other than talent. Essentially, spec racing is judging based solely on ability rather than a mix of skill and knowledge. Although there isn’t a series that is solely focused on development, the Lockheed AI drone racing challenge is an example of spec drones competing to determine which autonomous pilot programmed by a team is the best.

Vying for Marketplace Position

Competition among businesses in today’s market can be intense, making it essential for each to try to gain an edge over the others.

When it comes to spec racing, it can lead to anti-competitive market behaviour. Pilots being required to use specific components creates an artificial demand which is beneficial for the spec class suppliers, but it can hurt the sales of other companies. Although this may be acceptable for small scale series, if a global spec league were to specify the use of only one company’s gear, that company would earn a lot of money but would be at the detriment of other companies. A competitive market is beneficial because it encourages innovation, whereas an anti-competitive one, dominated by one firm, eliminates the need to innovate as it only has to compete with its current products. It may be advantageous for the company to have all the market share, but for consumers, it is important that the industry is spread across a few.

Development of Racing

The progress of racing has been a fascinating journey throughout the years. It has gone through various changes; from the days of chariot racing to the thrilling competitions of today. Changes in technology, as well as rule modifications, have all been significant factors in the advancement of this beloved activity.

A Creative Way for Special Racing Events

The hobby of drone racing has become increasingly popular in the past five years and the technology continues to improve. A drone from 2016 would not be able to keep up with one from the present due to changes in components and firmware. Consequently, it is not advisable to have a set specification for drones that would remain constant over time, since this would impede the development of the sport. For spec leagues, it may be a good idea to update the specifications or components annually, though the changes do not have to be significant. This way, the spec classes would remain current and competitive.

One new thought for spec racing is to make the racing more accessible to a larger audience. This could be accomplished by creating a simpler set of rules and regulations that would be more accessible to those unfamiliar with the sport. Additionally, special racing events could be held in different locations to encourage more people to participate. This would also provide a great opportunity to bring in a larger variety of spectators. Overall, this would create a new and exciting way to enjoy the sport of spec racing.

In motorsport, a cost-effective option is folk racing. At the end of the event, any vehicle can be purchased for a predetermined price – usually between $500 and $2000. This keeps the cost of the sport low and prevents competitors from overspending. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with drone racing. As the top tier open FPV racing class drones increase in cost, the implementation of a ‘folk’ class could be a great solution. This way, tech-savvy folks can still get the enjoyment out of building and developing, newbies can purchase a bind and fly (BNF) craft, and the cost of competing stays at a fixed, reasonable amount.

Could Spec Racing Take the Place of Open?

As we have discussed, both spec and open FPV racing have their own advantages and disadvantages. Spec racing has become increasingly popular and is becoming a more viable competitive series. Personally, I see spec racing as more of an additional series to open racing instead of a replacement. My club has not yet instituted a spec class, but if they do, I plan to participate.

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