Ari-Pekka Repo at a glance
Promoting a new sport is an obstacle course in itself
Drone racing’s combination of aviation, acrobatics and technology appealed to Ari-Pekka Repo right from the start. And now, he is striving to increase the sport’s popularity on the global stage.
Ari-Pekka has been flying drones and organizing racing events in Finland ever since the sport started up in Finland. Now, as an ambassador for this tech-driven sport, he has earned a place as a chapter organizer in MultiGP and represents Finland at the European Rotor Association (ERSA), a pan-European organization working to develop the sport.
What is drone racing? Drone racing sees pilots fly multi-copters, usually quad-copters with four motor blades, through an obstacle track. On-board cameras provide live feed streams into the pilot’s video goggles or screens. With this first person view (FPV), the pilot feels immersed in flight; as though he is sitting in the copter and manoeuvring it through the race-track.
Unlike the drones used in photography which basically hover overhead, racing drones are fast –paced, reaching speeds of 150kmph within seconds. They can spring from the ground level to tens of meters in the air within a fraction of a second. In the hands of a skilled pilot, the drone can jump over trees or avoid obstacles just like a bird.
“Through his involvement in drone racing, Ari-Pekka aims to create a vibrant drone racing scene in Finland which will in turn create an impact within the fast-emerging international racing network.”
Blending technology and sport
As a high-tech sport, drone racing requires pilots to piece together the drones from parts. There is a lot of software involved in drones since it is the software that controls the motors and enables them to fly. There is an active community of open source developers who constantly build and tweak the software and hardware required. The development cycles are insanely fast as there are new versions coming out every week. To give you an idea, the drone parts you buy now will become obsolete within a span of three months!
Juggling work and racing
Ari-Pekka took a fancy to drone-racing just when the sport was still relatively new. Currently, he is creating an official FAI for the World Air Sports Federation in Finland under the aegis of the Finnish Aviation Association (SIL). Through his involvement, Ari-Pekka aims to create a vibrant drone racing scene in Finland which will create an impact within the fast-emerging international racing network.
“Since I am a Team Lead, I have to juggle my race interests with work responsibilities. However, I am lucky that TCS supports my pursuit and is flexible with schedules,” explains Ari-Pekka.
Ari-Pekka has created a racing league called Elisa Drone Racing League (EDRL), holding races throughout the year. In 2016, a four member team sponsored by Elisa and TCS took part in the Euro Cup competition (http://www.ersa-cup.com/) managed by ERSA in Ibiza, Spain, with Ari-Pekka as the team manager.
Fast-emerging as a competitive sport, drone racing had some big breakthroughs in recent times. The first championship was held in the United States in the summer of 2015 with its $25,000 prize money. The most high profile competition so far was ‘The World Drone Prix’ held in Dubai in March 2016, which carried a prize purse of $1million. Recently, ESPN started covering drone racing, making the sport truly air-borne.
Up, up and away
In the last three years, the sport has been going more and more mainstream. In Finland, the number of pilots has increased from a few tens to a few hundreds. Across the globe, there are now three or four major leagues organizing races. The big race recently was the DCL 2017 Finale held in Berlin. Television coverage has also picked up now with Eurosport broadcasting the races to a huge audience.
A superstar’s message to us all:
When you see something new that you can influence, I recommend jumping in. For me, it’s been extremely satisfying to see this sport grow in stature in Finland and elsewhere.”