Hopes on drone-racing body to boost sport

When he pilots his drone using goggles and a remote controller, engineer Alvin Yeoh, 36, feels like Superman, soaring through space as he sees the world through the camera mounted on the flying machine. The drone-racing enthusiast was one of eight pa
When he pilots his drone using goggles and a remote controller, engineer Alvin Yeoh, 36, feels like Superman, soaring through space as he sees the world through the camera mounted on the flying machine. The drone-racing enthusiast was one of eight participants in a competition in Johor Baru last October. He is one of a growing breed of enthusiasts heading overseas to join races as the sport takes flight internationally. Drone-racing buffs hope an association, expected to be formed this year, will help raise the profile of drone sports and make it easier to hold races here. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Dr Yeoh with first-person view goggles strapped on. They can be connected wirelessly to a camera mounted on his drone during its flight, which can make him feel like Superman.
Dr Yeoh with first-person view goggles strapped on. They can be connected wirelessly to a camera mounted on his drone during its flight, which can make him feel like Superman.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

He soars, dives and races through the air at speeds of up to 150kmh as he sees the world through the eyes of his drone.

When engineer Alvin Yeoh straps on his goggles - connected wirelessly to a camera mounted on his drone - he "feels like Superman".

And this Superman likes to race.

Dr Yeoh, 36, who owns four drones, is among a growing breed of drone-racing enthusiasts here who are going abroad on their own dime to represent Singapore in the burgeoning sport.

These aficionados are hoping that an association, expected to be formed this year, will help raise the profile of the activity here.

"A proper association might make it easier to represent (drone racing) to the authorities," said Dr Yeoh, who first picked up the hobby about five years ago.

He estimates that he has spent $6,000 on it in the past two years.

Fellow enthusiast Stephen Price said: "There were efforts to get a more established drone-racing programme going, but they hit stumbling blocks in getting approval."

The 39-year-old British entrepreneur, who moved here three years ago, designs his own racing-drone frames which he sells for about $100 each.

He said there is definitely an appetite for drone racing here and that an association would help provide "a reasonable framework to safely operate races".

The profile of drone racing has risen worldwide in recent years, with competitions airing on sports television network ESPN.

Races are also now regularly being held in neighbouring countries.

The EcoWorld MultiGP Drone Racing Championship 2016, held in Johor Baru last October, had eight racers from Singapore, including Mr Price and Dr Yeoh. The MultiGP is believed to be the largest drone-racing league in the world, with 11,000 participants across 800 chapters internationally.

Mr Price placed first in the Drone Siege Challenge, held in Bintan last November, which had eight competitors from Singapore.

One of the barriers to organising such events here is the cost, said Dr Yeoh.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore requires organisers of drone-sports activities here to apply for two permits - an operator permit and a Class 1 activity permit.

The operator permit, which is valid for a year, costs $600 for the first drone and $400 for each subsequent participating drone .

An activity permit costs $75.

The owner of online drone shop 65drones, who wanted to be known only as Ms H.Y. Lim, said enthusiasts were heading to as far as Japan and the United States due to the lack of races here.

"There is little opportunity to race in Singapore," said the 35-year-old.

She added that drone racing's rising profile as a spectator sport could help bring tourists to Singapore, comparing it to the Formula One races here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Hopes on drone-racing body to boost sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe