Last month, Louisville’s LVL1 hackerspace held an experimental drone combat event, QUACC: Quadrotor Ultimate Aerial Combat Competition. Participants using el-cheapo Syma X1 quadrotors to even the playing field, and hung ribbons from the chassis to give the contestants something to aim for.
I interviewed LVL1’s Brad Luyster, who organized the event.
JB: Could you explain the general concept of QUACC?
BL: The general concept of QUACC is to take these super-cheap Chinese quadcopters, and ruthlessly destroy them. It’s like Battlebots of the sky. We tried to be really rule-minimal for the competition. The fight lasted until one of the competitors’ battery died, or until one quadcopter was destroyed. If they both lasted to the end, a length of ribbon was used to determine the winner. I wanted folks to really push the limits of what these toys could carry, but more than anything, folks were pushing my limits on what I would consider safe. One competitor attached mousetraps to his quadcopter.
JB: How did you get the idea for the event?
BL: This whole thing started after I had been gifted one of these quadcopters for my birthday. After flying it around for a few days, it was still good as new. I was amazed at how well this thing had endured. I’ve flown those cheap gas-station helicopters, and they’re lucky to last minutes out of the box. This quadcopter actually lasted long enough for me to become a reasonably competent pilot. I had the quadcopter at the hackerspace, and was doing some lift testing, and hooning around in our big room, and someone mentioned that it would be really cool to see a couple of these things dogfight. An hour of brainstorming later, the concept for a super rule-minimal quadcopter competition had formed. These things are so cheap that they’re basically disposable, and they’re really easy to fly. The competition slots sold out in no time.
How many participants did you have?
BL: The competition was a 16-slot single-elimination. (Single elimination is really the only choice in a tournament in which you hope the competitors are destroyed). We sold out in just a couple of days. Sixten competitors ended up being a little tough to manage, and I might rethink that number if I were doing things again. We had a great turnout in spectators, too. We probably had 55-65 folks show up just to watch, including a local drone startup, and a bunch of experienced RC folks.
Do you plan to run the event again, and if so, what will you do differently?
BL: I absolutely plan to run the event again! I’m already thinking about a spring event, taking place outdoors with slightly more dangerous weapons. Next time, I’ll seriously consider limiting the number of competitors, or maybe having a less public qualification event. With 15 rounds, the last few ended up being a bit tedious. I’m also thinking about ways the competition rules can be tweaked to encourage more aggression. With the ribbon, a lot of folks would get ahead, and then run and hide. We also had some folks use some really clever string weapons, but they would tangle up a quadcopter (sometime their own), and it would be down-and-out for several minutes. I’m thinking KO rules similar to boxing would improve things, with no ribbons. If both quadcopters come out alive, both competitors have failed miserably.
I encourage other folks to run QUACC events! I’ve already been approached by a couple of folks in other hackerspaces asking if they could steal the idea. I say go for it! Develop the concept into something that works for the space you have available. I’d love to know about other similar events, and maybe roll their lessons learned into our next event. We’ve also managed to spin a recurring drone meetup out of this event, so anyone near Louisville is welcome to stop by on the Third Thursday of the month. Our inaugural meetup will be this Thursday.