WATCH: Drones speed through forest in thrilling race
Schoolchildren could soon have a chance to learn more about the emerging sport of drone racing as part of a new education programme.
The initiative will see students expand on the maths and science learnt in the classroom to help them build and fly their own drone creations.
Pro pilots from US racing drone manufacturer Thrust UAV will showcase the sport’s latest technology at this weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, before the programme is launched across the country.
And to give an idea of what drones are like, the company invited a group of journalists to the festival site to have a go themselves.
Drone pilots from both the US and UK were on hand to show us the basics, and I started by having a go on a computerised simulator.
Like the real thing, the machines are operated with using two dials, controlling speed and direction – similar to most video games.
The aim is simple – to guide the drones safely through wooden gates and around the course, ideally in as fast a time as possible.
This is generally the starting point for those taking part in drone racing – a sport which is quickly expanding in the UK.
Since starting in the US about six years ago, it has become a popular television pastime with 75 million people watching the professional Drone Racing League on screen and online last year.
Joe Egusquiza, director of business operations at Thrust UAV, told me that racing now takes place most weeks up and down the UK.
He said: ‘Drone racing is like games consoles on steroids.
‘It gets kids outdoors and away from the computer screen and it’s an activity that suits every member of the family but still has that speed and thrill factor.
‘You find that everyone who races is very friendly, and it’s a sport that is fun and easy to get into.
‘The sport is quite new and it means the technology is growing really fast.’
This weekend, Thrust UAV will set up its own installation – called Future Lab – at the festival.
As well as drone racing at the event itself, staff will be showcasing cutting-edge technology from the worlds of automotive and aviation.
This includes the world-leading Riot 250 R Pro racing drone and RubiQ, a simplified educational drone platform specifically designed for use by students.
Visitors can even take the controls themselves.
Joe added: ‘The sport is big on Facebook and more people now are seeing it on the news.
‘It is not the easiest thing to build a drone from scratch so we come in with ready-made ones – all you have to do is buy a controller and goggles.’
It is hoped that the new education programme, named STEMD (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Drone), will be rolled out to about to about 7,000 schools worldwide.
Joe said: ‘Our education package will teach students how to build their own drone from the ground up and then how to control it, how to hover, move and fly through gates.
‘It will teach them real-world skills in a variety of STEM-focused areas.
‘Ultimately, the kids who build these drones are the same kids who will make all the future tech in the Future Lab come to life.’
After practice on the simulation, we were given a rough guide to build our own drone.
To try and make the sport more accessible, many basic drones can be built with screws, rather than having to solder parts together.
Afterwards we were given a live demonstration of the drones at work, though because of the fashionably British weather outside an impromptu obstacle course was set up with chairs and tables.
Once the rain begun to disappear it was over to the journalists to take the reins and have a go with the drones ourselves.
Arguably the most thrilling part is not even the technology but the eyewear – special goggles allow you to watch through the eyes of the drone’s camera as it flies through the air.
Like learning to drive a car, we were each joined with one of the instructors who could take control the drone at any time –
pretty handy when one fast nudge of the dials could send the drone high up into the sky.
Taking one for a test run is still an exhilarating experience, and once you have to learnt to control your drone it is a rare opportunity to look down on the world, still with your feet on the ground.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed starts today at Goodwood House in Chichester.
For more information go to goodwood.com.
Pictures: Dominic James