Jo Tomalin

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Speed and Movement at Paris Drone Festival!

Above :Champs-Elysees, Paris (photo curtesy Paris Drone Festival)

Course enclosed by huge net on Champs-Elysées (photo: Jo Tomalin)

The second Paris Drone Festival took place on June 4th 2017 on the world famous Champs-Elysées. This was also on the first Sunday where traffic would be banned once a month on this wide very busy road, for air conservation.

Thirty six of the best drone pilots in the world (of thirteen different nationalities) were invited to race in several international teams, including Conrad, Flyduino, Gemfan, IRC Racing and Rotorama.

Start of the course after the tunnel (photo: Jo Tomalin)

A course of about 1km in length starts in the tunnels underneath the road then surfaces above ground and extends down half of the Champs Elysees enclosed in a huge net structure. The aim is to drive the compact 33cm drones through and around several obstacles in the fastest speed.

Pilots of Team Gemfan in racing position – James Bowles seated far right
(photo: Jo Tomalin)

Pilots sit in a row of seats on a stage, wearing Virtual Reality goggles, deftly manipulating their drone controller while seeing the course fly by – relayed from the small powerful camera on their drone – to their high tech goggles. Teams race in heats then advance to quarters, semis and finals.

Drones ready to Race (photo: Jo Tomalin)

Drones this size can go about 80 miles an hour but on this course which twists and turns they may fly at slightly slower speeds. It is thrilling as the drones whirr by during races, and were reported by the Paris Drone Festival to fly up to 150 km an hour! Teams race against each other in twos, fours and eight.

Drones and Controller (photo: Jo Tomalin)

James Bowles, from Devon is the U.K. Drone Racing Champion for 2015-2016 racing for Gemfan, as part of an international team of pilots. Gemfan is a company which provides components for drones and are used in his drones.

James Bowles, UK drone racing  Champion 2015-2016 (photo: Jo Tomalin)

James Bowles (aka JAB1a) has been flying since 2012, addicted since he saw stunning video by his friend flying a drone, Bowles decided he had to have it in his life – drones – quad copters and FPV (First Person View). He loves the adrenaline from piloting drones and has raced all over the world. Like many sports, drone racing is an expensive hobby, and at the moment it is not possible to make a living at it but as the capabilities of drones become better known and more popular, sponsorships will develop to grow and support the sport.

Bowles’ two drones (one to race and another as backup) use a digital Connex Prosight camera, with a long range antenna to send signals from the tunnel underground which has a 20 km range. Armattan sponsors the carbon frame and structure for Bowles, while Gemfan sponsors electronics.

Participants from various team watch a race on a monitor (photo: Jo Tomalin)

Bowles is optimistic about the future of racing and describes the genuine camaraderie among the drone community. They are enthusiasts, hang out together (even at races) and often help each other with their knowledge or components if a team needs a spare part so they can race.

A team reviews a race (photo: Jo Tomalin)

A large crowd of spectators, estimated by the Paris Drone Festival at 180,000 attended this event. In between races people visited kiosks providing information about the rules of flying drones in France from the Federation Professionnelle du Drone Civil and the Fedration Française d’Aeromodelisme. There was also a Drone Racing Simulator, Le Laboratoire du Drone for children and the team hangouts full of colorful drones, spare moving parts and team members, chilling.

Stuck in the net (photo: Jo Tomalin)

Sometimes drones crash in the nets or obstacles. In one race I heard someone say “Tout le monde au sol!” “Everyone is on the ground! All eight drones had crashed.

Tangled up (photo: Jo Tomalin)

This is  mainly a racing event and to make it a festival it could benefit from more information for the public in attendance. There is a lot of down time as heats and races have to be organized moment by moment according to results in prior races, and a printed or online schedule with details of the teams, pilots and race times and a play by play of all the speedy races by an announcer could help the public understand wha is happening. A couple of times a drone was flown down the race track slowly allowing the public a view of larger drones close up – this was wonderful and the public clearly enjoyed these moments and could take photographs. The racing drones speed by so fast and are so small that it is very difficult to get any kind of photo, so these brief demonstrations were welcome!

Screen showing Drones in the Tunnel (photo: Jo Tomalin)

High quality video of each race playing on a large screen is exciting to watch, it’s like being inside a video game at times. It’s also a bit like a maker fair on steroids and the atmosphere during the races was, well, electric! Winners of this championship league event were team Flyduino. Next the championship season will race in Austria, Romania, Belgium, as well as other cities.

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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