Széchenyi István University hosts prestigious drone competition

Széchenyi István University has hosted a drone competition for the first time in its history. On the track set up in the clearing near Aranypart II, quadcopters, i.e. remote control four-rotor drones, clashed with each other in an official race recognised by the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI), which was also the second stage of the Hungarian championship. The event, named the 1st SZE Cup, was a true co-production: apart from the University’s drone laboratory, the SZEviation drone development student team and the Hungarian competition organisation Drone Racing Hungary were involved in the organisation.

Unusual noises could be heard on the way to the Aranypart on the closing day of the Széchenyi University Days. The silence of the gloomy Saturday was interrupted by the buzzing of racing drones, which, to an outside observer, were gliding along the designated track at a speed and with sound effects that made it seem as if well-bred mosquitoes were playing with each other, overtaking each other just for the sake of virtuosity.

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The moment of the start (Photo: Csaba József Májer)

Of course, far from being child's play, drone technology is not just an expensive hobby, but a dynamically developing high-tech industry and - as we can see in their case - a technical sport requiring a huge amount of professional knowledge. Széchenyi István University, a leader in technical education, has understood the times when it was among the first in Hungary to integrate this increasingly important field into its professional and academic portfolio: under the auspices of the institution's Digital Development Centre, it has established a Drone Technology Laboratory, launched a drone control and data analysis training course, founded a company developing drone technology innovations, and is a leading player in the Hungarian Drone Coalition, which it also sponsors. It can be seen that drone technology has now become part of the university's competences: its staff are working on a number of projects for industrial clients, coordinated by the Digital Development Centre.

In the spirit of expanding the knowledge base in drone technology, the University has recently set up a drone development student team, SZEviation, which enables talented young people to get to know the world of racing drones. This has created a self-training student workshop that, in close cooperation with the institution's drone lab, equips its members with marketable knowledge. The team aims to build and develop racing drones, as well as various events to promote the subject: competitions, exhibitions, shows, etc. The first fruit of this was the 1st SZE Cup, the second stage of the national championship, mentioned in the introduction.

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The competition course with gates and obstacles was located in the clearing of the Aranypart (Photo: Csaba József Májer)

The tournament was held with 23 participants in a straight elimination system. After the group battles, there was a semi-final and a final, the latter a CTA (Chase the Ace). The idea was that the same team had to win the race twice in a row to be declared the final winner. Four drones were allowed on the track at a time, a race consisted of three laps, and the order of finish was the deciding factor in the allocation of places - similar to Formula 1.

Competitors entered the race with a device built by themselves, which they then controlled remotely using VR goggles. That is why this category is called FPV, which comes from the term "first person view", meaning that the pilot does not control the drone from an external point of view, but sees through the "eyes" of the drone, projecting the image of the camera on the drone, an image from the camera on the drone being projected onto the device

It is not enough to simply complete the course, obstacles must be avoided and flown over in the order and direction specified - if someone fails to do so, they must turn back, otherwise they complete an invalid lap. The correct route is guaranteed by a spotter, who is there to warn the rider if they make a mistake. If the rider has not corrected the mistake, the spotter must inform the organisers.

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Snapshot from the broadcast

We caught up with Norbert Perness, head of the Drone Technology Laboratory at Széchenyi István University, who provided the voice of the live broadcast as a commentator, but also took to the track himself with his own drone.

"There are usually around twenty-five to thirty competitors taking part in these competitions, and they appear at these events on a monthly basis. We were mainly involved as organisers and course builders, which is a great experience for all of us. I can speak for everyone when I say that the location of the area is excellent. In a built-up urban environment, yet in a green belt, close to the university, we were able to provide a venue for the event with LED lighting, unique gates, extra obstacles," said the lab manager proudly, also stressing that safety is a very important aspect of these events.

"We are talking about drones travelling at 150 kilometres per hour. At that speed, simply for safety reasons, not everyone can take off. You have to train these devices to avoid head-on collisions in the air. In such an accident, anything can happen, and the propellers spin, with high torque, which can cause parts to fall up to 30-40 metres away.

Staying in the air by yourself is also a challenge, as these quadcopters, unlike the multirotor drones we are used to seeing in everyday life, do not have an automatic positioning system. They are a bit like sharks: they have to keep swimming or they will sink," said Peress Norbert.

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Norbert Perness (back), head of the Drone Technology Laboratory at Széchenyi University, in the commentator's booth (Photo: József Csaba Májer)

SZEviation's long-term goal is to be the only student drone development team in the country to compete with vehicles of their own construction. At the moment, the team has only tried out its skills outside competitions, having only been formed a few months ago. Nevertheless, work is well underway and they could be on the road as early as this year. All this requires complex skills: mechanical, telecommunications and programming skills are needed, and piloting a drone requires a high level of skill, which can be improved considerably with practice.

The 1st SZE Cup was won by Roland "daemon" Rontó, who is now tied for third place in the national championship after two rounds. The results of the competition are available on the Drone Racing Hungary website and the broadcast can be watched on YouTube.

Just what is drone racing?

There are several types of drone racing, but the most popular and widespread in the world is the remote control of quadrotor drones (UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in a "first person view". The SZE Cup and the Hungarian championship are fully harmonised with the rules of the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI). The FAI supervises all sporting activities involving flying devices, from paragliding to aerobatics and hot air ballooning. Drones are part of the model class, but have recently been classified in a separate class (F9A, F9U). In Hungary, there is not yet a separate federation system, with Drone Racing Hungary operating as a branch of the Hungarian Modelling Association.

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