Red Bull Built the Fastest Car in Formula 1, Then Built the World's Fastest Camera Drone to Follow It

Red Bull Built the Fastest Car in Formula 1, Then Built the World's Fastest Camera Drone to Follow It
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Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

In recent years, Red Bull Racing have built a monster. A monster of a Formula 1 grid-leading team, a monster of a driver with Max Verstappen, and a monster of a car in the RB20, the latest iteration of Red Bull's design prowess. This commitment to bleeding-edge success has been demonstrated in Red Bull Racing's domination of F1 the past few years, boringly so, some F1 fans may even say. But on top of being the owners of two F1 teams, Red Bull have also been the world's leading purveyors in creating unique spectacle for audiences. That's where the Red Bull Drone 1 comes in, matching pace with the frenetic kinetics of Formula 1.

The Red Bull Drone 1, despite its relatively normal naming convention, is an extraordinary instance of developmental partnership. Seeking to outdo itself by creating a perspective no one else could, Red Bull's Advanced Technologies division reached out to drone services company Dutch Drone Gods to explore the idea of creating a drone that could reliably follow RBR's F1 car. In an interview with Motorsport.com, Ralph Hogenbirk, founder of Dutch Drone Gods, describes the initial inquiry. "About one year ago, Red Bull came to us with a question: 'we've been thinking about this for a while, we want a drone that can follow a Formula 1 car for a full lap, keep up, film it and make something a video that looks cool as well – can you do it?'"

The Red Bull Drone 1 gives chase to the RBR Formula 1 car, delivering an incredible experience.

The concept of a drone dedicated to speed isn't a new one, but the challenge is including anything else on the drone. "We saw some ideas from people that have done fast drones before. They were meant to go fast, one time, in a straight line," Hogenbirk elaborates. "But then they didn't have any HD cameras, no recording capabilities – so that's where we just developed that idea and started experimenting how we could do it." And from there the development team began to iterate, testing out the drone on the famed Silverstone track, using Red Bull's RB19 car as a stand-in.

To achieve the fine balance of speed and functionality, the team focused on two big factors: Aerodynamics and endurance. An aerodynamic body design increases airspeed and reduces the power needed to keep the drone flying, and by using parts that are geared towards a longer battery life, the drone is able to keep up with the car consistently. DDG assembled the drone using a hodgepodge of off-the-shelf parts and components made using a 3D printer, but also drew on their relationships with drone manufacturers to source unreleased parts, as well. Finally, working in partnership with the esoteric capabilities of Red Bull's Advanced Technologies division, the development culminated in a drone that can achieve a top speed of about 220mph, with an acceleration of 0-120mph in two seconds.

Fine-tuning and maintenance is a key part of both operating drones and racing in Formula 1. Image Credit: Dutch Drone Gods

Operating the drone takes a significant amount of precision and coordination. Drones don't have brakes, meaning that the pilot has to redirect the drone's acceleration with each turn, putting a significant amount of force on the drone as it follows the car. Maintaining a clear data signal through the entire track poses another obstacle, one that's overcome by launching a secondary signal relay drone in tandem with the RBD1. And despite the emphasis on endurance in the design, the RBD1 only has 3 minutes of battery available, just 1/10th of a commercial drone's battery capacity.

The RBD1 has proven its ability to measure up to the task, but an approval by the FIA remains an open question. F1’s Director of Media and Broadcast Dean Locke cites safety as an ever-present concern, one actually borne out of the growing success of F1's broadcasting. “The speed of cars are still ridiculously fast and we have these events where we're getting over 400,000 people turning up over a weekend. So not flying over crowds is actually quite difficult now," Locke says. While safety is his chief concern, Locke also believes there's potential for RBD1's use on specific sections of track.

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