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Now reading: Dr!ft : Mini desktop drift and gymkhana simulation - hands on review
Is slot car racing done? Scalextric's crown seemed under threat when we reviewed Anki's Overdrive just over a year ago, but there is a new product on the block that waves goodbye to traditional tracks altogether. Introducing Dr!ft, a revolutionary 'real racing' simulator aiming to provide realistic car handling on a tiny scale! Lets take a look at how this kickstarter project has grown into the ultimate desktop drifting experience.
Dr!ft is a small scale remote control car system controlled via your smartphone. Handmade in Germany, the Sturmkind team have worked to produce a scale model that performs with the same driving dynamics as a racing car to produce a 'real racing simulator'. Using a bespoke chassis design with a series of motors and servos, the cars steer and spin their wheels allowing you to drift and slide them on your desk. Still confused? Watch it in action below:
For this review we were supplied the Gymkhana edition direct from Sturmkind themselves. The kit comes in a nicely decorated satin finished box, sealed with a proud 'handmade in Germany' sticker.
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We were supplied the Yellow Beast car, which bears some resemblance to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo's of old. The box includes a 'top trumps' style spec sheet listing the supposed engine size, engine power output (DIN Hp and Nm torque) weight and 0-62mph time. The flip-side of this card has a 'mounted by' plaque, which appears to be hand signed by the person who either built or checked the car over before shipment.
The bodywork is plastic but finished in a nice bright yellow, with dark tinted windows and matt black plastics. At the front we have working headlights with high beam setting and at the rear working brake lights. The rear spoiler is removable, as are the the wheels should you wish to swap them out. They feature great details such as brake discs behind them.
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Underneath the body is the real secret to the Dr!ft car's performance, a small 360° rotating, height actuating trolley with drive wheels and balance adjuster screws. This is what allows the car to raise, dive and slide through turns so convincingly.
Just behind this is the power button. To turn the car on hold this in for around a second, then place the car down on the racing surface. The cars headlights will light and the car will rotate on the spot as it configures. To turn the car off press the same button for around a second.
The cars have a micro usb port in the base of them for charging them. Charging takes around 30 minutes and should give you around the same again in play time depending on your driving style.
You can charge the cars from any standard USB output (PC, laptop, wall charger) or even a powerbank as pictured using the included cable. The rear lights will pulse as the battery is charging, then switch to flashing when the charge level exceeds 80%. When the car is fully charged the headlights will flash.
A decal sheet is supplied for personalising your car. You might be used to fitting stickers to your RC models but these are applied a little differently. Note that they are printed in reverse and thus need transferring to the body.
Remove the protective tracing paper cover from front of the sheet and carefully cut around the decal you wish to use. you don't have to be super accurate as only the printed area will transfer. Place the cut decal face down onto the bodywork then apply water onto the rear of the thick backing paper using a brush (or your fingers).
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Once the paper is saturated, press down on the backing paper a few times before gently peeling it away from the edge. The decals transfer to the body and when dry will remain firmly stuck on.
Available for free in the play store for Android and the itunes store for iPhone, the Dr!ft application is integral to the system, allowing you to control the car with your smartphone. Once the app is installed you will need to make an account before pairing the car over a bluetooth connection and checking for updates. When paired you can view the duplicated onscreen stat card (that responds to tuning), rename your car and even update the card with a photo of your actual model taken through your smartphone camera.
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Sturmkind have leveraged the speaker and vibration motor in your phone to provide audio and haptic feedback when driving. Starting the car will provide engine notes specific to the type of engine and what RPM you are at which really adds to the experience, as does the tyre screeching when hitting the handbrake!
We advise using a large hard floor for your first experience with the Dr!ft, or at least a large table.
When on the drive screen you operate the car by pressing your smartphone screen to adjust drive and tilting the phone to adjust steering angle. Three onscreen buttons allow you to start/stop the ignition, turn on the headlights and select reverse. Three virtual buttons control the throttle, brake and handbrake. The app shows a bar indicating what percentage of input you are giving the car through these virtual buttons, as seen with the blue accelerator in the screenshot below.
The hotspot areas can be adjusted in the settings menu as seen below. As standard the right third of the screen is the accelerator, the left third the brake and the centre the handbrake. The system can take some getting used to, especially in terms of steering angle. You can adjust the steering angle and a host of other car control and display properties in the settings menu (the cog on the menu screen).
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Alongside the steering, the smartphone tilt sensor is used to operate an emergency brake function. If you get too close to the course/table edge, quickly twist your wrists to point the screen to the floor and the car will stop pretty much on the spot. You will need to restart the engine after using this, but it is a welcome feature!
Instead of just sliding around you can set out a proper circuit and race it. Switch to 'race' for car setup, select your difficulty and 'track conditions' (dry or wet surfaces can be simulated) number of laps and more.
Set out your circuit using the included components or any items on your desk or floor but be sure to include the checkered finish line in your layout. Place the car on the circuit and press the checkered flag. A traffic light countdown will begin on your phone screen but make sure you don't accelerate too early and jump the start!
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The race ends when the car crosses the finish line (within 45 degree angle of attack, ideally straight on!) and the driver turns off the ignition. A results screen shows the session time, fastest lap as well as a break down of the split times.
The cars feature a downward facing sensor that is not only able to read the 'barcode' clipping points but work out how fast you were travelling over them and at what angle. The original race game leveraged this for lap counting but the gymkhana game takes it much further.
The kit includes four different sticky-back targets:
You can arrange these points on the floor into a circuit but remember you only have one minute to hit as many combinations of them as you can! As you run over each one you will get an audio confirmation from a virtual 'commentator' played out of your phone speaker whilst the screen displays the previous tricks and your score for each.
Remember that you have to be mid-drift to score points over targets so be sure to initiate up front! If you fluff the attempt a warning tone will come out of your phone to let you know.
You need to straighten up in between to successfully clear targets in a row, but if you switch direction and transition to a new target you will be rewarded with a combo. If you can chain all four targets in a row you will be rewarded with a super combo for some serious points.
Once you have completed your run you will get presented with your scoreboard with a breakdown so you can review what combos you managed successfully and where you went wrong with your line.
This mode is by far our favourite, trying to beat our scores against the clock became very addictive!
Through racing you can earn points to unlock medals which can then be redeemed for software updates in the tuning menu. You can also opt to just buy your way into the upgrades with real money. These upgrades affect the actual performance of the car and are worth grinding for!
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Our delivery from Sturmkind also included a container set. These six flat pack units are designed to look like 20 and 40ft shipping containers, ideal for recreating those 'dockyard' drifting scenes from Tokyo Drift.
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The cardboard boxes are an ecologically responsible choice, strong enough for multiple use (packing away etc), look good and are recyclable.
Hop ups are also available such as neon pink/yellow/orange/red drift wheels in various styles and the very exciting licensed scale BBS CH wheels. Entire track mats are soon to be available, these have a surface designed specifically for sliding the car around on (and come printed with circuit layouts) yet can be rolled up for travel.
For the most part all you will need to do is remove fluff and dirt from the central drive unit. You do this by rotating it so its perpendicular to the car body and then gently sliding them off the axles. You may also need to adjust the balance of the car from time to time. This is achieved using the supplied torx wrench and by following this guide.
Spares are available from the manufacturer such as dr!ft drive wheels, springs, front and rear axles and gear sets.
Sturmkind have a fantastic community portal alongside their usual facebook/instagram social media offerings. You may have to brush up on your German (or use google translate like we did) but the forums are a growing goldmine of advice, experiences and tweaks. Use the account credentials you created when you first installed the app to access it.
One user has reproduced the finish line as well as the gymkhana 'clipping' lines in a PDF document scaled for A4 and A3 printers. Created as just the 'bare' barcode lines, it allows you print many of these for building extensive or varying circuits. If you have access to a plotter or 3D printer, the downloads section has entire circuits and physical curbs that you can reproduce.
Yes, although the initial experience can be challenging, once mastered - it's addictive. The learning curve rewards users who put in the time but may put beginner-drifters off.
However if you are a big fan of drifting, this is markedly cheaper than buying a 1/10th scale RC setup that can produce the same handling experience, let alone the cost of an actual drift car! Its a unique product with plenty of life. The system is improving all the time with unlockable updates as well as physical track parts and car upgrades; Sturmkind is also developing a front-wheel-drive drift chassis!
Our business was built on RC Cars so we are always excited to see variations on the theme. Like things at a larger but less-realistic size? Check out our selection of awesome electric RC cars on our webstore. If you prefer a more traditional slot car approach, consider Anki's Overdrive aka when 'Scalextric's meets Mario Kart'.
Noticed an error in this article? Perhaps you have a question about using the Dr!ft racers? Leave us your feedback and questions in the comments section below!