"It's like Star Wars," said drone racer Ryan Gury, from his first-person-vision (FPV) point of view.
Through FPV, drone racers see what the drone sees through a pair of goggles that receive a live video feed from an onboard camera. Some might say it evokes the feeling of flying through Endor on a speeder. Or racing across Hoth.
This winter, snowy cold mornings were popular amongst New York's drone users because they allow enthusiasts like Gury to race drones in empty parks that could otherwise be filled during warmer days. We caught up with a few of these enthusiasts to talk tech, racing and regulations.
"It's all relatively new, so for me to say that oh, racing has been going on for a very long time, well, everything is relative," said Steve Cohen, head of New York City's drone user group. "There have been established racing leagues that have been in development for probably six months on my radar, maybe a bit more."
"Of course, being in this region, it's quite difficult to find open space to do things like this," he said. Gury, who is one of a small group of New York City's FPV drone racers, estimated that there are about 10,000 users in the United States in total. But, there is no way of verifying such numbers, because drone racing isn't regulated and most races take place on a smaller scale within drone user groups.
Drone racing, domestically, has active groups in Illinois, Colorado and Nevada — areas that have large, empty spaces; New York has been an exception to those restrictions. Internationally, groups have also been formed in Australia, Brazil and Mexico, and throughout the United Kingdom.
Apart from racing, Gury is also the CEO of DroneKraft, a startup that builds frames for customizable quadcopters, otherwise known as drones. His drone, the $159 Mach300, boasts a 300-millimeter carbon fiber frame — particularly durable for crash-intensive racing. The drone Gury is using in the video boasts a 2000-kilovolt motor, 6 x 4.5-inch crop propellers and a 4S battery with 30-amp ESC. These and other drone-related parts are available on DroneKraft's website, dronekraft.io.
While drone racing is new to New York, the sport is already facing barriers in the area. New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick has proposed a bill that would ban the use of drones, recreational and commercial, in the city. Council Member Garodnick contends that New York's dense population makes drones a threat to public safety and says drones should be grounded within the city.
"We are vulnerable to mischief here in New York," said Garodnick. "There are people out there who want to do harm to New York, and we want to just make sure we have rules here locally that define the circumstances in which you can use these things."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently proposed guidelines for drone use, which largely focus on commercial drones. "I think that there is always that initial fear of a new technology," Cohen said. "I think that certainly some of the concerns are legitimate and it's our job as the pioneers in the user community to address and in some cases ameliorate those situations."
Gury and Cohen both agree that regulation is needed, but they are weary of overregulation and are against a complete ban. Drone racers remain regulation free while Council Member Garodnick's bill is awaiting debate in the city council.