First-person view (FPV) drones have increased in popularity in recent years, evolving from a niche collection of specialized flyers to a robust category of remotely operated aircraft designed for specific-use cases and applications. In this primer, we’ll cover the basics of FPV drones, including what they are, how they’re used, and the equipment you need to become an FPV drone pilot.
What Are FPV Drones?
The first thing to know about FPV drones is that the “FPV” doesn’t describe the aircraft—it describes the method. As opposed to the traditional method of drone piloting, wherein the pilot controls the aircraft from their perspective on the ground, FPV drones are piloted from the drone’s point of view (i.e., the onboard camera). In other words, you’ll be flying the drone from the perspective of someone who is actually on board.
Now, before we talk about how that’s possible, let’s go over the differences between FPV drones and conventional flyers. In general, there aren’t any. Both FPV and conventional drones share the same basic design. They are both remote-control (RC) aircraft capable of transmitting live video via an onboard camera. And while it’s true that not all standard drones come with an onboard camera, almost all of them can be outfitted with a camera setup for FPV purposes. Likewise, most—if not all—FPV drones can be operated from the traditional ground perspective.
Did You Know: FPV pioneer Jesse Perkins is often credited with the invention of the legendary “Tiny Whoop” aircraft, one of the first FPV drones ever made. To make it, Perkins attached a micro video-transmission system to a simple toy drone, the Blade Inductrix, and voila.
At this point, you might be wondering: If FPV drones and conventional drones are the same, why are they categorized differently? Good question. And one not simply answered by discussing pilot perspective. No, to understand the difference, we’ll need to take a closer look at how first-person view is achieved, and the equipment involved.
As mentioned, the physical differences between FPV drones and conventional drones are small. In general, both are RC aircraft with onboard camera systems capable of transmitting video. Now, where that video is transmitted to is a big part of the FPV equation.
Unlike traditional drone flying, where the pilot operates the drone from the ground perspective, FPV pilots use the live video transmission from the drone’s camera. That video is transmitted from the drone to a compatible ground receiver and display—either a monitor or video goggles.
Compatible monitors for FPV flying range from high-end, cinema-grade displays to your basic smartphone. As long as your device can receive and display the drone’s live video feed with a minimized amount of latency, you will be able to use it as an FPV monitor.
Head-worn video goggles, on the other hand, are much more specialized, since they are designed specifically for FPV uses and applications. As such, video goggles also offer an enhanced level of immersion and improve the overall quality of the first-person experience (i.e., the feeling of being “inside” the drone’s cockpit). In terms of general operation, video goggles work as you might expect. Live video from the drone is transmitted to the goggles, which the wearer then sees in real time, thus enabling them to pilot the drone from first-person view.
What Are FPV Drones Used for?
Because conventional drones and FPV drones are so similar, it should come as no surprise that they are used for many of the same applications, including aerial photography and cinematography, remote inspections, security, and for general entertainment purposes.
However, even though most conventional drones can be outfitted for FPV purposes, not all of them are fit to perform those functions very well. Specifically, not all drones are good candidates for the number-one FPV application out there: drone racing.
Drone racing is unique from other FPV applications because the aircraft and the ground station receiver (i.e., your FPV monitor or goggles) must meet certain criteria that many conventional flyers and non-racers can’t. We won’t go too deeply into what those criteria are, but one of the big ones has to do with transmission latency. Basically, RC flyers need to be able to transmit video to the ground station fast enough for the pilot to react in real time. How fast? Well, some FPV drones can reach speeds up to 100 mph, so even if video latency is between 100 and 200 ms (which is a fairly common number for your standard action camera), there’s a chance you could crash because your video feed is slightly behind.
There’s a lot more to say about drone racing but, for now, just know that it’s one of the many uses for FPV drones.
Thanks to the unique experience it provides, the immersive perspective, and access to genuinely thrilling activities such as drone racing, FPV drones have become one of the fastest growing categories of RC flight. It also doesn’t hurt that getting into FPV flying is relatively easy. All you need is a drone that can transmit video and a receiver that can display it in real time—either a monitor or video goggles. Once you’ve got your FPV system all set up, you can use your FPV drone for all types of activities: aerial photography and cinematography, entertainment, racing, and more.
Thinking about becoming an FPV drone pilot or want to know more about FPV drones? Drop us a question in the Comments section, down below.