You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Adelaide drone races a world first

AAP logoAAP 1/09/2016 Marnie Banger

Drone racing has joined the ranks of scone baking as a hot contest at this year's Royal Adelaide Show, as the popularity of the flying machines continues to soar in Australia.

Organisers of the Australian International Drone Championship say it will be the first of its kind in the world to be watched by a crowd of thousands.

Competitors will race "first person view" (FPV) drones, which travel at around 100 km/h and have a camera that lets the driver watch the race from the air on a headset or screen.

Winners from nightly bouts during the show, which runs from September 2-11, will progress to later rounds to battle for $25,000 in prize money.

The Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA), which is helping run the races safely, says the sport is growing rapidly and is particarly attractive to young gamers.

"It's very similar to what they do when they sit in their bedroom and fly whatever they fly on the computer," MAAA president Neil Tank said.

"It's a computer game taken outside, they're flying this machine as if they're sitting in it."

Adelaide FPV Racing Chairman Alan Boldock said his club launched in late 2015 and dozens of people are coming on board each month.

He said lifelong friends had been born from the sport's geeky solidarity, with most members building their own drones instead of buying them fly-ready.

"There's that whole geeky statistics, 'I've got this motor, you've got that motor' thing. It's almost like Pokemon - 'we're in a battle and mine's stronger'," he said.

"People are looking for some kind of social group and this is providing that. Personally, I've made a whole new set of friends, who are instantly like minded.

""We've got people who are 55 who've just started flying, 12-year-olds who've just started flying, and fathers and sons who are both flying. Unfortunately it is very gender biased, it's mostly men."

The Royal Adelaide Show has led the charge in establishing the championship, with chief John Rothwell describing it as the perfect mix of technology and rivalry.

"The first show at 1840 in Adelaide was about competition. People were boasting about how good they were at breeding their livestock or growing plants and it's the same with drones. Competition is in our blood," he said.

"The show is reflecting what's actually happening in our community and technology is so much a part of it.

"Very little has been done in this area to date. At the California State Fair last year they had drone competitions, but not in front of a large audience."

Mr Boldock said the uniqueness of the competition does come with risks, as the mobile phones of the expected nightly crowd of at least 10,000 could interfere with the drone frequencies.

"Nowhere in the world has anyone tried to do this in front of a massive audience. The frequency we're transmitting on is similar to wi-fi and that may cause interference," he said.

Mr Tank said while the Adelaide event was likely to boost the drone frenzy, he did wonder how the machines would be regulated in the long run.

"I can see issues in the future if they are not regulated to some extent, issues in relation to invasion of privacy," he said.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulates drone use but people just flying for fun don't need their permission if they play by the rules, including a 120-metre altitude limit and a requirement to keep the craft in sight.

A CASA spokeswoman said tens of thousands of people use remotely piloted aircraft in Australia recreationally, but it's hard to gauge exactly how many machines there are.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon