Forget Throttle & Steer…Try Throttle, Yaw & Roll!

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Kyosho’s 1/18th G-Zero ‘Drone Racer’

Kyosho Main Page: HERE

Available in the UK: HERE

UK RRP: £249.99  Available: Late November

SPEC: Length: 302mm (with guard), Width; 300mm (with guard), Height; 65mm, Gear Ratio: 5 : 1, Weight: 130g approx, Motor: 8.5mm coreless, Battery: 3.7V-1000mAh, Propeller: 5”, Flight Time: 10 Minutes/Variable, Charging Time: 1-2 hours (depending on 5v USB Amp Output), Speed: 30km/h approx. (normal specification)/34.5km/h approx. (with 20° propeller angle setting)/38km/h approx. (when using optional parts), Flight altitude: Low 35cm/High 60cm approx. (setting can be changed using software application).

Fly-Drive-Race

As someone that’s heavily into both Multirotor and RC cars I was intrigued to learn on the RC grapevine a few months back that Kyosho were releasing a product they called the ‘Drone Racer’. Early images of it showed a very futuristic and yet thin side profile. It was very reminiscent of craft seen in the classic PlayStation game Wipe-out, or an evolution of a Formula E race car crossed with one of the Pod Racers seen in the Phantom Menace.

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Part futuristic F1 car, part Pod Racer…Wipeout was a big influence I’m convinced

The initial reaction from the core Kyosho fans, and strangely the car community was very positive. The existing Drone Racing community didn’t seem to get it, and some even ridiculed it initially, but then this wasn’t a Drone Racer in that sense at all. In fact, the biggest shock and polariser of the whole concept was the steering wheel car type, surface remote. That got more questions of “How?” on social media than any other part.

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The body/cowling makes a huge difference to the overall look…

Then things went very quiet for a while until the 23rd of September at a Drone Racer recital at the Japan Model Hobby Show. A buddy of mine Francesco attended and I watched transfixed as four of these craft raced their way around a course at the show, streaming live on his Facebook page. My interest level went through the roof, so I immediately got onto Kyosho UK and arranged this review. The actual retail stock looks to be hitting the UK in late November, so perfect timing for Xmas for anyone stuck what to get themselves, or a RC/Drone/Tech lover (delete as appropriate) for Xmas.

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Without the shell, the airframe is pretty sleek and narrow

Even More Torment!

Just before the sample physically arrived, just to torment me further, Kyosho released this YouTube video:

I wanted to review one even more! Then thankfully the door bell went, and a box arrived by courier. Just inside the box was a note saying I had just a few days with the sample, as it was one of only two in the UK and was needed by the UK reps to show retailers, I shelved anything I had to do in the next 48 hours and quickly finished unboxed the Drone Racer.

You can see my first thoughts after the unboxing on a Facebook video: HERE

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That rear spoiler is more cosmetic than to achieve any downforce, but who cares! it looks cool!

The drone itself is very light and sits at just over 300mm x 300mm. The Lexan body looks like a futuristic f1 car and really suits the genre of product. I’ve been a big advocator of body shells on drones as the standard ‘White for a filming platform’ and ‘Naked Carbon Fibre with alloy standoffs’’ for a race drone is starting to look a little old hat of late.

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The prop guards are necessary items. They will protect the props in use and ensure many flight hours before needing replacement

The drones H chassis design is only about 35mm or so wide along its spine, with a Sonar sensor array and battery holder on the underside, and on the top a 5v out accessory port (For a future FPV Cam possibly?), an LED port (for additional LEDs I’m guessing) and Infra Red Sensor (for a lap timing system and app Kyosho will be selling soon), standard mini USB port, a Bind and then clickable ‘C’ and ‘A’ buttons.

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An array of ports adorn the upper surface of the airframe. From bind and function buttons, to Infra Red and USB

Indicate & Identify

Both sets of arms have RGB LED strips built into them, and these can be changed at the front to any one of six colours (White, Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink or Blue) to help identify your drone if you intend to race it.

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The arms LEDs offer an indication of the Drones status…with bright front and rear LEDs mimicking headlamps and tail light

On the rear arm they change automatically to any one of four colours to indicate the drones status. This is simple to understand and the colour codes are as follows:-

  • Red : flashing = Low Voltage Warning, Solid Red indicates safety function is released and the quad is now armed and ready. Once flying the LED’s remain on to act as a tail light.
  • Yellow : Indicates the transmitter is not connected , so quad goes into failsafe/Emergency stop mode.
  • Green: Flashing indicates drone detecting horizontal axis, when solidly lit it indicates the drone is ready but safety function is still Active
  • Blue : Solid blue means Gyro calibration in progress
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Visibility in the dark indoors or out will never be an issue…

0, 10 or 20 Degrees Of Tilt

The arms also can be tilted to any one of three locked angles via the use of additional (but supplied) arm holders. These upper clamps hold the arms at either a 0-degree, 10-degree or 20-degree attack angle. Kyosho call it ‘VPUS’ or Variable Propeller Unit Structure. Marketing jargon aside, what this does is increase the forward speed of the quad in flight as the props are already pulling the craft forward because of the angle. Set at 20-degrees it jumps from the stock 30km/h at 0 degrees, to just under 35km/h and it also has an added advantage of flying better if there’s a slight breeze too. It tends to be able to cut through it better, rather than being blown off track (as can happen at the 0-degree setting).

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The props are easily replaced as is the motor, gears or prop guard

To seasoned quad racers this speed isn’t going to be mind-bendingly fast, but to most RC fans, especially the more car orientated, it’s a fast enough pace to have a good old race at, and more importantly, to have lots of fun with!

Charging…Charging…

The 1s (3.7v) 1000mAh LiPo included in this retail package takes between 1 and 2hrs to charge, all dependent upon the ampere rating of the USB socket you plug the included charger into. Now most PC’s offer quite a low Amp rating, so I opted to use a USB wall plug I had spare, rated at 2A and 5v, this peaked the pack in under an hour. As a rule of thumb, if using a computers USB port, USB 1.0 and 2.0 ports can deliver up to 0.5A; with USB 3.0, that moves up to 0.9A. By using a dedicated charging wall plug like I did, you can expect anywhere between 1.5A and 3A, drastically improving charge times.

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Included are spare props, a USB lead and USB charger for the 1S pack

By charging at 2A this gave a good ten minutes of mixed throttle fly/drive/hover time, and I’m sure that will improve once the battery has had a few cycles. The battery is a long flat, oblong and slightly wider than many fitted to other quads in the fun sector of the market. I have other packs with the same lead fitted, but all were a different size and lower mAh rating. This means that unless you can source a direct comparative cell by a third-party manufacturer, you will have to purchase official Kyosho spares, if you want multiple cells to enhance your fun.

“A Steering Wheel, But It’s A Drone?”

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Yes it’s a steer wheel, get over it! this is a Hybrid vehicle if ever there was one

Now, that was the reaction I got from most of my Drone flying buddies when I first revealed the Kyosho to them. They simply didn’t get it. All are used to flying stick radios. All use pitch and roll in combination to get the type turns they require. How could a wheel transmitter offer the same kind of control? Well…to put it bluntly. It doesn’t.

In use, the Drone Racer is more like piloting a very sophisticated Drift Car/Hovercraft hybrid than a Quadcopter, and for its intended market, that’s not actually a bad thing. The electronics built into the flight controller mix Yaw and Roll together and as you twist the wheel, the craft turns, offering quite a flat almost drift like Yaw turn, but with a small amount of roll mixed in. You can adjust the speed and amount of turn in relationship to the users input using the rotary knobs on the Tx, as can you trim each channel to offer a neutral point for the Yaw/Roll function and the throttle. Both important if there seems to be any slight drifting on any axis while in a straight, on the spot hover.

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Adjustment of trim, rate and feel during flight/hover/driving is all via the Tx

You must remember however that this Quads built in sensors are for Height Hold only. Two Sonar sensors pointing down help maintain one of the two available pre-set heights you select via the transmitters 3 position thumb switch on the grip. The other position being to land the Drone! At a moderate pace, they react fast enough to lift the drone up over an object, so on say a 1/10th Off Road track you can see the Drone rise in relation to the up ramp of a jump, then settle back to a constant height after the Drone descends the down ramp, or clears it completely.

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The Syncro Tx looks almost as futuristic as the Drone Racer itself!

Go too fast however and there’s a chance the Drone will hit the object before its sensors have compensated for its height. That’s when I found the highest of its two settings is best for this type of terrain. On a flat or semi-undulating terrain go to height one and everything’s smooth as butter. The Drone will compensate for small changes in surface seamlessly. Over rough terrain or where there is a series of objects much higher than the Drone is travelling, the second height is king.

A Fleet Of These Racing = Wipeout 2017

The best analogy I can use for the Kyosho Drones racer and its look and feel when being piloted is the game ‘Wipeout’. Now for this not familiar with the Sony PlayStation gaming franchise. Wipeout and the driving game Ridge Racer where two of the seminal launch titles on the original PS1. Wipeout captured the imagination of gamers by combining futuristic hovering race craft, with pumping electronic music and sweeping almost Tron-Esq tracks. Now Kyosho must have had a design brief of some sort when the project was first initiated, and I’m thinking that this and possibly the Pod Racers from Start Wars Episode 1 were high on that influences list. Sprinkle in a touch of Formula E, the latest in fun quadcopter technology and an easy to use (and futuristic looking) Synchro Steer Wheel transmitter, and you have one of the coolest bits of Xmas 2016 hobby tech I’ve seen in a long while.

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Note the wide 1000 mAh 1S LiPo and the two Sonar Sensors on the crafts belly

Seeing a small fleet of these, all set to display different colours battling it out would be epic. It’s the perfect stock class vehicle for an after-school club, held in a school gym or as I’ve recently seen at a more traditional 1/10th, On or Off Road RC Car club track.

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Kyosho sell two body variants to fit on this airframe…but expect more

Yes, You Can Run Outdoors…But

In totally stock form, and with the arms flat, any cross winds are hard to fight, and tend to push the craft off course. At slow speeds this is something you can counteract easily, but if the wind picks up, just making any headway can be a struggle, and if you are travelling at the crafts top speed, its momentum tends to make it carry for quite a distance.  And this is how the Drone Racer flies, its best described at Point, Squirt and Drift. You use the throttle and steer wheel in conjunction with each other to set the radius as you travel around an actual or imaginary corner marker.

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Sleek and aerodynamic…Inspirational in the Air

You soon get used to how much speed the Drone Racer can carry if you don’t counteract it with either a tap of the brakes (by pushing forwards on the trigger), or in my case when things looked like I may hit an object you gab a full on handful of brake, reversing the motors and causing the Racer to first slow, then stop, then start moving backwards.

When you first take off you flick the three position switch up to the desired level, pull on the trigger to initiate forward momentum, reach the desired speed and then use the throttle to help keep the Drone Racer pointed where you want it to go, modulating the speed with throttle and brake just like an RC car.

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Nore the Red LED’s…that’s what your opposition will see lots of hopefully if you get to race one!

At one point during an outdoor run I ended up with it travelling backwards, at speed heading into a fence. The wind had really picked up and just kept pushing it and even though I was gunning the throttle it just couldn’t fight the wind. Once I tilted the arms forwards however, things got far more aggressive in the handling stakes and the Racer tended to cut through wind moving forwards far better, and didn’t get pushed off course as easily.

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The ams need tilting to fly in any kind of windy conditions, thankfully its was still during most of my testing

On a still day or in a sheltered area outdoors the Drone Racer is lots of fun. It’s just a magnet for people and drew a crowd everywhere I took it, with it flying so low to the ground, excited the big kid in anyone that sees it. Its body shell is a key factor in this. Drones have become part of the everyday fabric of life. But seeing something so futuristic and sleek elevated this product from just 4 sets of blades and a blob of plastic, to something very much more inspiring to pilot or more importantly, observe being piloted.

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The must have piece of RC tech for Xmas 2016…I think so, it’s firmly on my list!

I offered the controls to everyone within my RC peer group that wanted to have a go, admittedly mostly are car guys, but even though this was one of only two sample I knew of outside Japan, I even let a couple of complete RC novice buddies have a go. With the height, it travels, the prop guards, the relatively low RPM the blades spin, and the built-in motor cut out programming, I knew that it was safe to be around. you can’t say that about many drones that aren’t 100% toy grade.

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To some it may look Toy Grade, but once you experience the Drone Racer , you realise its Hobby Grade all the way!

All who experienced it gave the Drone Racer a unanimous thumbs-up for simply being so innovative and different, with only one finding the steer wheel method “a little odd”, but then again he also flies planes and quads, and is a stick man when racing cars too…so there’s no hope for him! If it encourages people into the very diverse and interesting world of Drones now that can’t be a bad thing. I hate to use the term, but this is a gateway product if I ever saw one!

Conclusion…

The Kyosho Drone Racer is a product that to some may initially look like its Toy Grade, but when you consider the build quality, its price point (£249.99), the technology involved in its realisation and its future potential with the Kyosho timing app and additional future performance upgrades, it’s definitely Hobby-Grade through and through. Drone purists probably won’t get it, buy it or race one, and that leaves it open for the rest of the Tech and RC communities to embrace, and that’s a huge market place globally. Judging by the pre-orders the first batch into Europe will sell out fast, and I’ve got one on my Xmas list for sure.

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All that piloted the Drone Racer wanted one. Thats a great compliment for any new product

I just can’t wait to see what Kyosho have up their sleeve next. I hope more variants on the Drone Racer, perhaps a Pro Drone Racer with 2S support, faster motors and FPV? I live in hope…but for the latter I have a confession to make. I have tried it with FPV and its ace fun! I simply used one of the tiny 25mw CE legal AIO 5.8ghz FPV cams we all use on our Tiny Whoop builds, plugged it into the 5V port (the cam takes up to 5v!) and although it reduced the overall flight time slightly, as there’s an additional current draw…it was a very good way to pilot the Drone Racer. In fact, as an entry into the world of FPV, the Kyosho is a great platform. The flight time it offers, and its ability to fly indoors if space allows or outdoors if the winds not too prevalent, make it near perfect.

Final Thought: I would hope that Kyosho will offer a stick version to at some point, even keep in the mixing of Yaw and Roll and just allow throttle and steering, as that would excite even more people about its low flying charms. We shall see…

Huge shout out to Neil Skull and the Kysoho UK team for this opportunity and I can’t wait to get together with a few owners post Xmas and put the Drone Racers through their paces on a track somewhere!

For more on the Kyosho Drone Racer click HERE