Luke Bannister, a 15-year-old British teenager, won $250 000 at the inaugural World Drone Prix (yes, it’s a thing), in Dubai earlier this year. Various drone racing leagues are popping up globally and ESPN began covering the sport in August, claiming that drone racing could be the next ‘behemoth racing sport’ after NASCAR and Formula 1. Perhaps you fancy getting in on the action while the sport is still in its infancy?
If that doesn’t float your boat, there are many other uses for these flying robots, from camera drones that carry your GoPro, minidrone toys that are purely for fun, and drones that have been employed by clever fishermen to cheat, err fish. Whether you have a penchant for filming, racing, fishing or playing, here are our six of the best.
1. Eachine Falcon 250 FPV Quadcopter
This is the perfect machine to test your hand at first-person view (FPV) drone racing. The Eachine Falcon 250 may not be the fastest quadcopter but it is the best ready-to-fly (RTF) out of the box racing drone. This 400g racer has a strong carbon fibre frame so it has a reasonable chance of survival if you crash.
The 1 500mAh battery offers about 10–15 mins of flight time and has a range of about 1.8km, using the standard transmitter. The Falcon 250 has a built-in on-screen display (OSD), which overlays flight information – such as distance travelled and battery level – onto your FPV video, allowing you to monitor your quadcopter status in real-time while flying. The unit also has head and tail lights for night-time flying and the standard motors can be swapped out fairly easily. To cut your teeth as an FPV pilot, this is a winner.
Price R5 499
Where RC Hobby SA at www.quadcopter.co.za
FatShark Dominator V3 FPV Goggles
If you want to fly a racing drone, you’ll need a set of FPV goggles and although there are lots of types available online, most of them are extremely low quality. One of the most well known and recommended brands is FatShark, although Arris also has a great set.
Price R6 999
2. ImmersionRC Vortex 250 PRO ARF
As you move up the ranks of drone racing, you may want to invest in an almost ready to fly (ARF) drone. To get going, you will need to buy a separate battery and radio controller for the Vortex. The range you get and the flight time will depend on the battery and controller you choose. This racer has a fully manual mode (Acro) that has no self-levelling and this is favoured by racers who know what they are doing because it is the fastest mode, as well as two other flight modes: easy and intermediate.
The ImmersionRC Vortex 250 Pro is a high performance model for those already comfortable with drone racing, but ultimately the drones that win big races are built, not bought. If you are going to take the sport seriously you’ll need to get your hands dirty and custom build your own racing drone, or at least tinker with an existing one quite sacrilegiously.
Price $489 or around R7 200
3. Hover Camera
This nifty, compact self-flying camera drone can follow people and avoid flying into objects. It is not the first autonomous drone but what makes it unique is that it can be unfolded and tossed into the air and retrieved by snatching it mid-air without risk of injury. This is made possible by the carbon fibre grate that encases the four propellers. The cage also makes it ideal for flying indoors. The Hover Camera has a front-facing 13-megapixel camera for recording in 4K and users will be able to set the position of the drone, choose which person to follow and take panoramic shots via a smartphone app.
When in flight, it moves through the air in an almost surreal manner and scores top marks on our ‘coolometer’. (You’ll find the demonstration video easily by typing ‘Hover Camera’ into YouTube). The easily portable drone was built by Zero Zero Robotics, weighs only 240 grams and it is expected to go on sale imminently.
Price $600 or around R9 000
4. Waterproof Splash Drone RTF (Fisherman’s Drone)
The Swellpro Waterproof Splash Drone comes with a first-person view (FPV) camera with Payload Release situated under the drone that enables it to deliver a small object. The object, such as bait, can weigh up to one kilogram and by adjusting the camera to 90° manually before take-off, you will be able to see directly beneath the Splash Drone, so that you can deliver the payload at a precise location.
The drone comes with an eight-channel telemetry radio remote controller, GoPro waterproof dive case, a waterproof vented cover, quick-release landing gear and a suitcase to store it all. We’re not sure how effective this method of fishing is, but if you do give it a try on your next trip to Henties (and you have success), tell us all about it.
Price R31 995
5. DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter
DJI are leaders in the drone industry and the phantom models need no introduction. The latest release of this popular quadcopter is the DJI Phantom 4 with a 4K ultra high definition (UHD) camera. You simply select yourself, or your subject, tap the drone to get it going and the pilotless drone will automatically follow along like a happy puppy – only with far more control than a clumsy canine, thanks to the myriad sensors on board.
The Phantom 4 has five cameras. The main 12-megapixel camera mounted on a three-axis gimbal, shoots UHD 4K videos at up to 30fps and 60Mbps, or Full HD 1 080p at up to 120fps. The other four cameras are used for, among other things, the visual positioning system (VPS) ensuring a very stable flight. It has a 28-minute flight time (a 25% improvement over the Phantom 3) and automated obstacle avoidance. This drone also has a sport mode, which increases the maximum speed from 54 to 72km/h, but in this mode the obstacle avoidance is disabled (oh dear). The weight, including battery and propellers, is 1 380g.
Price R28 050
6. Parrot Jumping Night Minidrone
The Jumping Night Drone, is one of the second-generation Wi-Fi-enabled Parrot MiniDrones that are controlled via an app on your smartphone or tablet. This drone weighs 192g and doesn’t fly but instead is used to run, spin, zig-zag and hop while taking photos or video. It’s a toy, and a great one at that.
While you freak the cat out, you can animate the drone with an array of lighting and sound effects. You can also launch it in superhero fashion onto tabletops or any surface up to 80cm higher than the one it is on. The Jumping Night also has a microphone mode that allows you to listen and talk through the drone to whoever is in the room.
Price R2 645