Drone Competitions: Various Formats of Drone Challenges and How to Hold Drone Contests in Schools, Colleges, and Universities.
Personal Drones are becoming popular at a rapid pace. It is because most people think about drones as a next big thing for the general public after the internet. It is reasonable to believe that the drones would enter into our daily lives in near future. As an educational institute, we need to be introducing our students to this emerging technology. To prepare the students for the drone challenge, many schools, universities, and colleges have started arranging various formats of drone competitions for their students. Many educational and non-educational organizations hold these type of UAV competitions for students and the general public, and I have put a list at the end. If you are one of such organizations which arrange drone contests, you can send a request for inclusion in that list.
In this article, I explain few of the styles and types of such competitions and some related issues regarding general safety. Also, you may get some useful information about what kind of drones and other essential items you might need for these contests and an estimate of their prices.
Objectives of Drone Competitions:
In the past, the word drone has been used mostly for the military applications. Later the drones have annoyed many people as a privacy risk and a source of the noise. However, today’s personal drones have many exciting and useful applications, and they will find many more in future. These applications include security, photography, search and rescue, emergency supplies to save lives or medical sample retrieval, help to improve yield in agriculture and entertainment.
The primary purpose of such competitions is to create awareness amongst the students and the general public about the potential and usefulness of drones and urge them to acquire drone piloting skills for good reasons. However, these competitions would prove to be a good source of healthy entertainment and a fun activity. These contests would encourage the development of novel and cost-effective solutions for various drone application. Another essential objective could be to make students learn coding and programming. Drones provide an excellent platform for programming and debugging, and students learn a lot and feel proud when they make something work.
Some Commonly Used Themes for Drone Competitions:
Our competition themes should be around some interesting application of these drones such as saving lives and rescuing people by providing emergency supplies. One example would be a drone dropping a bottle of water for a person trapped in a hard-to-reach area or quickly supplying a defibrillator at a location where somebody has a heart attack. We can replicate this scenario by putting a dummy at some distance, and the participants fly their drone and drop ab within a circle around that dummy.
Skill Testing Themes:
You can set a course of obstacles, and drone pilots would be required to weave and sling their drones expertly avoiding those obstacles. The pilot who shows impressive and novel variations within a specified time would be the winner. It is not the racing but the demonstration of piloting skills which would wince the audience and impress judges. You can put some hoops at various comfortable and awkward angles to differentiate the most skillful from the rest.
For more complex and extensive obstacles, drone pilot can wear goggles which provide the first-person view of the surroundings as you are sitting in the cockpit of your drone. With fpv drones, the pilot can demonstrate some fantastic skills. Some competitions have obstacles such as vehicles in the arena. It is impossible to see through such obstacles, and hence fpv drones are the only option. It is worth mentioning that in some of the countries, you can only fly drones within your line-of-sight and without wearing any equipment such as goggles. If this is the case, you may not be able to conduct contests involving complex obstacles.
When it comes to fun themes, there are countless options, and it all depends on your creativity.
Types and Styles of Drone Competitions:
Drone Racing Competitions:
Drone racing is the most popular type of drone contest. However, since it is a big topic, I have dedicated a full article for this the most famous drone sport. You can find useful information about how to arrange a drone racing event, what kind of rules you may use, the arena for the competition, some safety measures and links to some major organizations in that article. Let us discuss some other drome competition formats.
Drone Delivery Competition:
The drone pilot would deliver a burger-size object to the pre-defined position. The team will need a drone with a gripper. Since usually, drones do not have a gripper attached to them; this would be interesting to see how they manage to find and attach an external gripper. The best place to attach the gripper would be between the landing gear legs. It would require landing the drone within some ring-shaped raised landing pad. It would demand precision piloting and landing skills. The installation of the gripper on the drone would be challenging, and therefore, this style of competition is more suitable for university level. For high schools or even primary schools, you can use a Parrot Mambo Drone which has a gripper and delivers a light object such as a rubber or even a paper ball.
Search and Rescue Drone Competition:
Drones are a proven tool for search and rescue missions. In recent past, drones have found dead bodies in hard-to-reach areas where rescue teams could not go. UAVs have delivered life jackets to people to save lives, and the stories are available on the internet. However, for the competition, you can place a defined target somewhere in the arena which is not readily visible. The task would be to find the target using drone camera with fpv goggles.
Drone dogfights are emerging as a favorite sport for many drone enthusiasts around the world. In a drone dogfight, two competing drones try to shoot each other down in the air. For this fight, again you have to install the shooting mechanism on the drones. You can design a drone capable of firing Nerf Disks.
Drone Firing Competitions:
For school children, a simplistic competition would be to get a Parrot Mambo Drone which also has a cannon. Make a pyramid of empty coffee cups on a table, and the task would be to do the firing and hit the glasses until all glasses are dropped at level zero. The students might need to refill the cannon, and the winner would be who does this in minimum time. Very simple and easy to arrange competition. The same can be achieved by firing and bursting balloons instead of cups.
Safety Aspects of Drone Competitions:
Do not rush toward conducting a drone competition at your institute without proper safety measures. Drones are high-risk toys which can potentially cause severe injury or even death. The first thing you should do when thinking to arrange a competition is to read and understand the legislation and the associated guidelines from the aviation authority of your country.
You make sure that you are not violating any of the rules of the land you are living in. Not only the aviation rules and regulations but council laws should also be consulted. The guidelines will give you many safety instructions about UAVs. Make sure you follow them and incorporate them when preparing rules for the drone competition. You may also define an age group and a drone category for the participants of the competition. Once you are in control of legal and safety matters you must also spread the word and do the following:
- Make an introductory video or slideshow for the participants and organizers (or even show this to the audience just before starting the competition) showing the potential risks associated with drones for example how a rotating drone propeller can cut your skin etc.
- Arrange a pre-competition session to check the skills of the participating teams. If someone cannot demonstrate some necessary flying skills, do not allow them. Decide a set of tasks which everyone must complete to be able to participate in the competition.
- Design the arena (indoor or outdoor) keeping in mind the safety of everyone involved (spectators, organizers, and participants). Keep the drones away from spectators.
- Prepare an emergency action plan and assign duties. Perform a full-scale drill before the competition.
- You must not hold the competition near airports, airfields, danger areas, prohibited areas or restricted areas.
- You should efficiently manage the radio frequency and radio interference. The participants should mention on the application form which control frequency and radio frequency they would be operating on (2.4 GHz or 5.7 GHz etc). A useful resource for this could be Recommendations for Transmitter Frequency Control.
- You must check that each competitor pilot has the valid third party insurance for the quadcopter.
- You should have a policy in place for things such as what if a drone crashes, what happens next, can the drone pilot go and collect the drone immediately. Also, when to turn off all extra radio transmitters and other equipment, and when to land the aircraft safely without moving forward with the competition, etc.
When you ready only then conduct the competition.
The Most Affordable Drones for Drone Competition:
The type of drone suitable for a particular competition format depends on the type and style of the drone competition. It is not possible to recommend a drone fit for all type of competitions. The racing drones usually are designed and made by the competitors from scratch. If a particular drone attachment is required, then a lot of other factors needs to be considered. I have a list of some of the most affordable drones for children on this website. Few of the drones which are not included in that list and are good general fit for some of the formats of drone competitions are mentioned below:
1. Holy Stone F181C RC Quadcopter Drone with HD Camera
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This quadcopter has a lot of cool features and comes with many accessories. The quadcopter has thousands of good reviews on Amazon and other websites. You can fly it real-time FPV with your smartphone. The good thing about this quadcopter is that it comes in a sturdy suitcase as a fully-assembled quadcopter, ready to fly. You get two sets of extra props and three extra batteries. Also, you get a Lipo-safe bag for charging the batteries. It has stable and smooth altitude hold which is the most desirable feature for beginners. It is not a racing quadcopter but very good for fpv flying. The camera is not great but for this price range right enough for search and rescue missions. It has four speed modes and 6 minutes of flying time. It is excellent for both indoor and outdoor flying.
3. Parrot Mambo Mini Drone with Grabber and a Cannon
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Parrot is one of the most reputed drone companies. This mini-drone with 8 to 10 minutes of flying time. Comes with a grabber and a cannon so that you can carry a small object and drop them. Also, firing capability is excellent fun for kids. You can use your smartphone to fly. You get a handful of cannon balls with the drone.
List of Items Normally Required for Drone Competitions:
Following is a list of items which you might need for conducting a drone competition. If these parts are not available in your area, you might consider designing your own. The hoops and gates are easy to make locally.
- Obstacles: These could be gates, hoops, flags, and inflatables.
- Tent pegs for banners and guidance arrows etc.
- Clothes pegs for controlling the frequency
- High Visibility Jackets
- Walkie talkies
- “Don Not Enter “Barricade Tape (Cordon Tape)
- “Caution” Barricade Tape
- Drone Racing Hoop Gates
Organizations Which Conduct Drone Competitions on a Regular Basis:
You can contact companies offering drone services and drone training for the sponsorship of the drone competition, and some of them may happily accept this. You can then name your competition with the most prominent sponsor of the event.