What is FPV? Introduction to First Person View with Drones

FPV referes to First-Person View, aka remote-person view RPV.
In technical terms FPV is a method used to control a radio-controlled
machine from driver or pilot's point of view. Here we mostly refer to FPV with flying/driving remotly controled machine, mostly electrical, from first person.

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FPV lets you actually become your drone: quadcopter, plane, robot, vehicle or what-ever machine that has the ability to be remotely controlled. FPV perspective gives you the ability to immerse into robotic structure and control it as you become one. Yeah, it's fun as it sounds.

what is fpv mode

GTA V is a very popular game with over 120 million copies sold worldwide. If you are one among those 120 million people, can you guess which is First Person View and Third Person View?

In the Third person view (image on the left), you get to see the surroundings with the camera being fixed behind the Drone. In the First-person view (image on the right) the flyer gets to experience the surroundings from the human eye perspective.

So What is FPV? First-person view is predominantly how FPV drones are flown. There is no point in looking at the body of the quad the whole time. Placing the camera at the front for a First-person perspective allows the flyers to spot smaller details with ease.

what is fpv-first-person-view

FPV is all about flying a quad very slowly and admiring the beauty of nature from up above (Freestyle FPV) or pushing the limits of a quad to its paces and competing against each other (Racing FPV).

Types of FPV Drones

As stated above, FPV Drones come under 2 major categories- Freestyle and Racing. There is not a significant difference between Freestyle drones and Racing drones, with the only major difference being the Drone frame.

Freestyle Drones

Freestyle is a form of art and we all are artists painting from the canvas called nature. Some or most people are Freestyle flyers which involves slow and cinematic flying. Freestyle flying is all about flying close to an object, squeezing your Quad (quad means 4, a typical drone has 4 motors and the name stuck) through the tiniest of gaps, flipping-rolling and everything in between.

fpv freestyle drone

Freestyle drones are not as demanding as Racing quads that require carefully selected parts to save every gram of weight as possible. Freestyle drones are meant to be durable and are meant to take abuse. I call them- a poor man’s drone (I once built a freestyle drone with 3 different motors from 3 different manufacturers, and surprisingly the quad flew exceptionally well). Point being, a Freestyle quad will just work even with less than perfect components.

Fun Fact: There is a company called Armattan that provides lifetime warranties for all their freestyle frames. You crash and break your frame; contact their customer support and you get a free replacement part.

Racing drones are meant to go round and round around a track that pushes the limits of the quad. Racing quads are very demanding on the quad with every pilot trying to squeeze the maximum performance out of their setups. The main reason being racing quads almost always flies at full throttle, who wants to go slow in a race right?

fpv racing drone

Looking from a performance point of view, a Racing drone can have the power to weight ratio of over 12:1 as compared to a Freestyle quad that can get away with a power to weight ratio as little as 4:1. A 12:1 power ratio means that the power generated by the quad at full throttle is 12 times more than the maximum weight of the quad.

Flying a Racing quad requires immediate and short reflexes that only comes by practice. Racing drone pilots were most certainly at some point a Freestyle quad pilot and gradually moved to the Racing side of quads. Technology has cut short your transition time, cost, and money by FPV drone simulators. The advantage of FPV simulators is that you don’t have a $300 quad on the line, if you ever crash in a simulator it is as easy as pressing a button on your keyboard to reset the model.

How FPV Drones Work?

how does fpv drone work

Drones gained popularity when Lithium Polymer batteries, LiPo, in short, got cheaper to manufacture and was easily accessible by the consumers. The working of a drone is simple yet fascinating enough that powering a newly built drone gives you goosebumps.

A typical quadrotor drone has 4 motors. We all know motors spin a shaft; we make use of this rotatory motion of the shaft to move the quad. The shaft of the motors is equipped with propellers.

Propellers are components that help produce thrust by sucking in large volumes of air from the top of the drone and pushing the air downward, similar to a Helicopter.

When the amount of displaced air larger than the weight of the quad, the quad lifts off the ground and starts to hover. Higher the amount of displaced air, the faster the quad flies.

Motors produce torque, a twisting force that tends to cause rotation. Each motor spins in a specific orientation such that the torque produced by motor 1 (spinning clockwise) is counteracted by motor 2 (spinning counter-clockwise), and the torque generated by motor 3 is counteracted by motor 4.

Now after taking off, to navigate the quad uses something called differential throttle or differential thrust. Differential thrust is the means of spinning one motor faster than the other. In respect to a quad, to tilt forward, the rearward motors are spun faster, making more thrust, than the forward motors, also known as Pitching. This same concept is used for Rolling and Yawing.

fpv system for drone

FPV systems combines fpv camera and video transmitter on a drone and video receiver signaling technology on fpv goggles to give you a immersive experience of viewing exactly what the drone’s camera sees. 

Getting started in FPV

Investing in FPV was one of the most rewarding and expensive decisions I have ever made. FPV pilots have this saying “Get into FPV and you won’t have money for drugs”. Yes, that is true. FPV gets so addicting that it is hard to avoid.

So, let’s take a look at what it takes to get into FPV. Each subsection below talks about the specific function of parts in a drone and is also linked to our specific guides that discuss the topics in detail.

FPV Drone Parts

Drone Frames

are the skeletons of a quad. The quality and features of a frame decide the durability of a frame in the unfortunate event of a crash. The function of the frame is to house all the components safely and rigidly and in the case of a crash save our electronic components. Here's the detailed guide on how to choose best quadcopter frame where you can dig further.

Flight Controllers

are the brains of a quad. They receive the signals from the radio receiver, perform the necessary calculations, and move the quad accordingly. Drone Flight Controllers are capable of customizations by adding filters to the input parameters. 

FPV Drone Motors

essentially help the quad to move. Brushless drone motors produce thrust for the quad to move. Brushed motors were once used for small 2” and smaller quads, are not used anymore due to the short lifespan and lower power output as compared to a similar-sized brushless motor.

Electronic Speed Controller

or ESC, in short, is used to control the speed of the motors. These are the veins of a quad that deliver the power needed to the motors through them. Motor and ESC’s go hand in hand, a larger motor requires a larger ESC for drone.

FPV Cameras

help us navigate the quad by helping us see what the quad sees. FPV cameras are an essential component without which FPV wouldn’t be possible and it is essential to make sure that the Cameras have low latencies.

Video Transmitters

as the name suggests, Video transmitters transmit video captured by the FPV camera. Best VTx for FPV come in both Analog and Digital transmission with both having their pros and cons. Video Transmitters convert the Analog signals from the Camera and boost the strength of the signal with amplifiers to increase the range of the signal.

FPV Antennas

are components that radiate the Video signals into the environment. FPV Antenna come in different shapes and sizes, with Omnidirectional Antenna being the most common.

Radio Transmitter and Receivers

are components that help you control the quad from the ground. Transmitters are held by pilots on the ground and transmit the stick inputs to the receiver module placed on the quad. UAV radio control signals are encoded and processed in a specific way by individual manufacturers, with SBUS and iBUS being the most common.

Propellers

help produce thrust with the help of motors. Drone props are also motor specific, with a larger motor warranting a larger propeller. There are aggressive propellers and slow-flying propellers to choose from.

Batteries

are what provide power to the whole quad from powering the motors to the Flight Controllers. Best Drone battery should have a high current discharge to keep up with the high current consumptions of a drone.

Applications of FPV Drones

With commercial drones getting smaller, cheaper, and more easily accessible, the applications of drones  are limitless in today’s world ranging from Aerial photography, Rescue operations, and Agricultural drones that detect crop diseases.

Aerial Videography

Aerial Videography with FPV is becoming more and more seen in high budget productions. Experiencing the space through acro HD flight gives the pilot the opportunity to control the drone and obtain mesmorizing shots that are extremly dificult to get with standard camera gear.   

Search and Rescue

Finding missing person in remote locations can be very challenging. Using FPV technology for Search and Rescue missions is becoming more and more a standard for various departments. SAR team members are working in groups where ie. one operator is controlling the drone via FPV feed, while the other can independently search using separate camera with night vision, thermal imaging, etc.

Agriculture

Agritech is reckognizing the benefits of using drones with smart applications. Various NDVI data points can be captured with drones, mapping images and collecting other specific data. For operating an FPV UAV there are usually 2 operators. Where one is flying the machine and controling the points, while other is operating with separate camera for data capturing. The collected data is analysed to detect crop diseases and optimize the production. 

drones in agriculture

FAA Drone Regulations

The cases of drones flying over Airports and disrupting air traffic, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) formed a general guideline and laid a basic framework that FPV pilots are supposed to follow when flying. It should be kept in mind that any drone over a 250g all up flying weight must be registered and drones under 250g are exempt from registering.

The below-stated rules are applicable for people in the United States, it is advised to look up your local drone regulations before flying.

faa-weight-applicibility

Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Registration

  • Register your drone, mark (PDF) it on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.
  • Fly only for recreational purposes.
  • Fly your drone at or below 400 feet above the ground when in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace.
  • Obtain authorization before flying in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E). You can obtain authorization in three ways:
    • LAANC
    • DroneZone
    • A written agreement with the FAA for fixed flying sites. For more information about fixed flying sites, contact us at UAShelp@faa.gov.
  • NOTE: Flying drones in certain airspace is not allowed. Classes of airspace and flying restrictions can be found on our B4UFLY app.
  • Keep your drone within your visual line of sight, or within the visual line-of-sight of a visual observer who is co-located (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
  • Do not fly at night unless your drone has lighting that allows you to know its location and orientation at all times.
  • Give way to and do not interfere with manned aircraft
  • Never fly over any person or moving vehicle.
  • Never interfere with emergency response activities such as disaster relief, any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Many over-the-counter medications have side effects that could impact your ability to safely operate your drone
  • Do not operate your drone carelessly or recklessly.

Recreational flyers should know that if they intentionally violate any of these safety requirements, and/or operate carelessly or recklessly, they could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties. Take a look at the FAA’s website for detailed rules and regulations for recreational flyers.

Some other general rules of thumb that can be followed

  • Never fly overcrowded places, in the case of interference and radio control loss, the runaway drone might and will hurt people.
  • NEVER intrude into someone’s privacy, spying on someone’s bedroom is a big NO-NO.
  • Do not fly behind mountains or buildings intentionally when you know don’t have the proper Radio setup.
  • Take precautions while flying and be wary of your surroundings if you fly in a park where people are present all the time.
  • Plan your flying, keeping your battery in mind and fly accordingly.
  • Never fly a drone with faulty parts, if the part dies in midair chances are it might hurt someone.

Conclusion

Like many other hobbies out there, FPV drone flying is much more. You can experience it in many different ways and apply your developed skills into different areas. 

There are some minor hassles, registering your drone and the like, but they can be done in one lazy afternoon watching Netflix. Yes, some rules are placed by the government, similar to traffic lights, for the people to follow. If you follow traffic rules, then you can follow the FPV drone regulations too.

Stay safe and Happy flying!!!