The giant drones are alive and racing at ridiculous, noisy speeds.
A couple of years ago, Business Insider was invited to a farm in the middle of Tasmania to watch a “giant drone” lift a bale of hay.
The idea was the drone was to become the prototype for a new form of drone racing, which was exploding in popularity across the globe at that time.
The drone was a beast:
And, alarmingly, it actually did lift a bale of hay and made an epic amount of noise:
But the longer test flight didn’t go so well, because it was technology, and technology takes time to get right. Especially when you’re pushing the boundaries, which is exactly what Chris Ballard and his team intended.
They want racing drones to hit 200+ km/h. They want them to be big that real live spectators can see them, and advertisers can advertise on them.
And above all, they want those real live spectators to be able to watch the drones without losing a limb.
Last week, almost two years to the day that we saw the prototype lift off, Freespace Drone Racing showed what it could do at the 2018 FAI Barcelona Drone World Cup. Turn the sound up:
So there’s a few things to note there. That was the FS500, and obviously not the giant drone we saw in 2016. The “500” stands for 500mm, twice as big as the official drones racing in Barcelona.
And the team is now known as Freespace Drone Racing.
It’s Freespace’s “transition aircraft”, made to teach pilots to go between the regular racing drones, and the actual giant, the FS1.
That, Freespace director Chris Ballard says, will be unleashed at the Avalon Air Show in February.
But compared to the regular drones, the FS500 is still awesome:
The FS500 can hit 120km/h, officially. Ballard says it’s capable of more.
The main thing right now is its large advertising space, HD cameras, and all of the systems seen in the giant drone, including GPS and geofencing.
Crucially, it flies with much better flow than a regular racing drone – not like an insect – and you can see it. And the space for logos is a drone racing first.
Despite the geofencing, the team still used “smart course design”, not allowing corners towards the public, to keep spectators safe.
More than 600 viewers were watching from a hill, and fully covered by metal fencing and a podium structure. More than 10,000 watched live online.
But some of the biggest advances Freespace has made recently have come off the track, where it has worked hard to become a major player in ensuring drone racing keeps evolving worldwide.
It recently got a nod of approval from the FAI to work together on developing the sport for three more years. The Barcelona World Cup event was actually organised by this crew that started out kicking around on farms in Tasmania a couple of years ago.
An MoA “recognises the significant progress made by each party and outlines a three-year plan to integrate two giant drone classes into the FAI drone racing calendar”, the FAI says.
While the FAI has been out organising and promoting drone races, Freespace “has made considerable technological progress in the development of giant drones designed to entertain the next generation of air sport fans”.
“The advances made include designing aircraft that can carry high definition camera systems, deliver real time telemetry, and offer advanced safety features such as stabilise, loiter, and ‘black box’ recording, yet still accelerate from 0 to 100kph in less than 1 second.”
The hard work on and behind the scenes, is slowly paying off.
“Next year is looking very promising,” Ballard says.
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