No one wants to buy a $650 hobby drone only to discover they're a bad pilot, especially considering how one bad twist or crash can leave your investment in pieces. Practise on a simulator before you buy one, just to be safe (and show off in front of friends).
Image credit: Andrew Turner/Flickr
Drone simulators are perfect for honing your skills or finding out if you even care about the hobby at all. Besides replicating the physics of quadcopter flight, drone simulators offer other features such as a variety of locations to practise, multiplayer action, and support for gear you already have at home.
Low Barrier to Entry
The best part about learning to fly on a drone simulator is the low barrier to entry. And by low, I mean free. The Drone Racing League offers its PC and Mac-compatible simulator gratis, so you can simply download, install and start flying.
Not only does that mean everyone can get into drone racing (provided they have a PC or Mac that meets the minimum requirements), it means you can do it all without spending a cent.
No Drone or Controller Required
Pro drone pilots use specific RC controllers worth hundreds of dollars with a variety of settings specific to quadcopter control. If you, like me, don't have a few hundred bucks to spend on a specialised controller to practise, you can always use the ones you have.
If you can connect your gaming controller (I use an Xbox 360 controller) to your computer, you can simply use the joysticks to pilot. Your monitor shows off the first person view, so you won't need any expensive flight goggles either.
Faster Resetting Means Faster Learning
Crashing an actual drone instantly grinds your high-flying party to a halt. Now you have to get up, find the crash site, and make sure your quadcopter is still functional before hitting the gas and going for another run. If you're crashing in a drone simulator, pressing a single button instantly resets your position and gets you ready to fly again. It's perfect for nailing down basics such as flying between some trees or a box without having to sit in the heat or walk through a park to retrieve your precious equipment.
Compete Against Actual Pilots
The Drone Racing League simulator offers an online multiplayer mode, letting you compete with other pilots. If you're interested in the competitive aspect, online play will put you against other pilots, some of whom are actual professionals. There's no need to travel to an event when you can race in your own.
Practise Makes Perfect
After spending a few days practising, I can safely say that drone racing is an incredibly difficult skill to master. It's a very smart way to test your skill as a drone pilot, or practise before you bite the bullet and get a drone of your own. My fascination with drone racing was grounded in reality after a few days of playing. In short, I suck, though I can thank the simulator for saving me a few hundred bucks on some starter quadcopter. I think I'll watch the pros play instead.