It’s 9 pm on a Saturday, and the Butterfly Lot in downtown Eugene is filled with a very different kind of flying object.
At the lower level of the parking garage, drones dart through the air with motors humming and LED lights flashing, as pilots stand around or sit in folding chairs, all wearing bug-eye goggles and armed with large remote controllers in their hands. When it’s race night, up to 30 racers compete in multiple heats.
The drones move so fast, it can be difficult to keep track.
Two years ago, Jordan Baros, the 28-year-old founder and president of MIA First Person View (FPV), was flipping channels and saw drone racing on ESPN.
“I was captivated,” he says. “I immediately started doing research: Is there a place in Eugene, Oregon, or does anywhere in Oregon at all for that matter have anything like [drone racing] going on? How could I get something like that to start?”
At first, Baros focused on the photography aspect of drones, starting an aerial photography business. After his drone was damaged he found a couple of like-minded guys in Oakridge.
The conclusion was clear: He needed to start a FPV club. Two years later, Baros has a “family” of more than 272 flyers from varied backgrounds.
“I’ve even seen 6-year-olds fly,” he says. “I’ve seen people with one arm fly, Captain Uno. Another guy named Paul, he lives here, and he’s in a wheelchair. So you got all sorts of different people that are attempting to do this. I’ve seen women fly. No one even cares if you fly well. It’s kinda like a big family that just wants to help each other.”
A basketball jock in a past life, Baros says he remembers a lot of hostility and aggression from his time playing on a basketball team, pointing out he’s never experienced that in competitive drone racing.
“I’ve never felt that in [FPV],” he says. “It’s just been a good nurturing feeling from everyone involved. It’s kinda crazy. It’s changed my life. I went from basketball to soldering and playing drone sims. It’s life changing; it’s changed my life in a positive way.”
A drone racing starter pack can begin at $299, with a drone and FatShark goggles. Baros suggests racers build their own drones to learn how the machine works and how to fix it.
While racing through barns or empty parking lots is the most visually interesting aspect of drone racing, it is only one part of the sport.
Racers must learn basic robotics building, programing and wiring. Although the sport looks intimidating, Baros says even his 4-year-old daughter flies and builds drones regularly.
MIA FPV has a full range, from novices to experts, ready and eager to answer any questions a newbie might have.
“The Garage of Doom,” as MIA FPV calls it — or the Butterfly Lot, as residents know it — is a unique partnership between MIA FPV and the city of Eugene. Baros believes the partnership may be the only of its kind nationwide, and it helps keep the parking lot safe at night.
“I think one of the things that the city of Eugene says they like the idea of that parking lot being used for something that’s not ordinary. It’s different,” Baros says. “You can’t go anywhere in Oregon into a parking garage right now and find somewhere that you can race drones legally, I don’t even think you can do that in the nation right now.” ν