- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Unmanned drones speeding through an obstacle course of bridges, arches and tunnels took to the skies as part of a new official drone race in Salt Lake City.

About two dozen people competed in the Road to the Utah Cup Saturday, with many operating custom racing drones that they’d built themselves.

The pilots guided the four-propeller crafts up to speeds of 40 miles per hour with the help of video transmitted from the drone to a set of virtual-reality goggles.

The camera gives the operator the thrill of seeing exactly what the drone sees as it speeds through the air and dips around the obstacles.

“It’s the closest thing to racing without the risk of dying,” 34-year-old Trevor Rose of Las Vegas told the Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1K4CBRg) after driving up to the race with his family.

The graduate student in engineering was hooked on the new sport after he saw his first drone race on YouTube earlier this year.

“That was it,” he said. “There is a learning curve, but once you’re there, it’s tons of fun.”

The course around Warm Springs Park was about 350 yards, and it included pylons, bridges and a tunnel. Most of the drones made a lap in less than 30 seconds, said Matt Key of Salt Lake City-based Drones Etc., which sponsored the race.

Racing drones typically have four motors, each driving one propeller and powered by a lithium polymer battery, according to Mike Johnson of drone retailer Thrust UAV.

The powerful batteries are the heaviest part of the drone and can keep it up for about five minutes at a time.

While a basic fly-by-sight drone costs as little as $100, a racing version goes for about $1,200.

Many people customize their crafts with a unique combination of frames, flight controls, motors, video equipment and software.

Spectator James Bushman, 30, of Cottonwood Heights says watching the pilot is inspiring.

“It’s fantastic how they control them. It’s pure skill,” he said. He’s hoping to race his own drone soon, but for now he’s practicing in the park, avoiding trees that could stymie his craft and staying under the legal elevation limit of 400 feet.

“When you’re a newbie, you have to be careful,” he said. “But once you get into it, you can focus all your attention on it - just like a good hobby should be.”

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com


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