Piloting a drone is not just an activity for hobbyists and – speaking about commercial purposes – professional operators of flying cameras. Drone racing is a new field of sport, attracting more and more attention of the media and sponsors ready to spend on prizes in international competitions up to a million US dollars.
With Maciej Poschwald, the professional sportsman/drone pilot, I speak just after the end of one of the drone races that in early September took place in Linz in Austria as a part of the festival of art and new technologies Ars Electronica.
TrendNomad.com: What do you feel when piloting a drone?
Maciej Poschwald: It’s an amazing feeling. I feel as if I had my avatar. When I wear goggles on my head, I move on drone’s board. I have the impression that I’m sitting behind the controls. During the race, I feel the adrenaline.
But piloting a drone is not only about racing. It’s also great to freestyle and practice tricks in space. To fly without any limits, as in a dream. The more you can, the more fun you get. You forget that you control a machine. You fully move there and do what you want.
What do you see through the goggles while piloting a drone?
I see what is in front of the drone. I have an accurate picture of the camera located in the cockpit. Head device cut me from the world around me so that I can focus on the flight. It is like a VR, but what I see is happening in the reality.
Would you like to pilot a helicopter or an airplane as well?
It is much easier to kill yourself when piloting a helicopter or a plane. When piloting a drone, I can do crazy things without any serious consequences. In the worst case, I will lose my money, but not my life or health. This is it: a lot of adrenaline and virtually no risk. And the fun is unbelievable.
When and where did it start?
The technology has allowed you to fly drones for several years, but people began to meet regularly and organize drone races about two years ago. The first was a video recorded by enthusiasts in a French forest. It went viral as people say it looks like a racing Pods from “Star Wars”. Anyone who watched this recording, including me, wanted to fly like this.
Are you sure that drone racing is officially considered as a sports discipline?
Drone racing championships are held in many places around the world. Sponsors spend considerable amounts of money on them. The prize in championships that run at the beginning of this year in Dubai was a million dollars. That huge amount of money can be a determinant that drone racing is a sport, right? Moreover, in the US, sports television channel ESPN broadcasts drone racing championships. We were also on Eurosport.
In how many championships do you participate annually?
This year several big races have already been organized. Since January I attended about eight championships. Now we are in Linz, the next one is the European championships in Ibiza. A moment later, the world championships will be organized in Hawaii. I like the fact that competitions are organized in such great places. (laugh)
I think next year will be even more drone racing events. It’s a fun thing to, but it takes time. I spend many weekends away from home.
Is it a must that drones are separated from the public by a net?
Yes. Safety is a top priority. If something bad would happen, it would ruin sport’s image. Naturally, it would be very bad also for a person hurt by a drone. Although the machine looks like a toy, it immediately cut the skin and bones. It’s good that organizers seriously care about the safety. Nobody risks.
Do drones that fly at championships are available for sale?
Drones that we pilot we build with our own hands. You can’t find them at a store. At the beginning, it was difficult, as drone parts were not as easily accessible as they are now. Once I had no idea of soldering and assembling drones. I had to learn how to do that.
Do you play in a team or alone?
Play? (laughs) Actually, you are right – “play” is the right word. Piloting a drone is like playing a video game. The only difference is that the game is happening in the reality.
I belong to Tornado XBlades Racing international team. In Poland, I am a member of the ROTORACER team, and that is also the name of our company. I can say that I work on two fronts.
What does ROTORACER do?
ROTORACER is a store and a company organizing events and demonstrations of drones. We show people that such a sports discipline as drone racing exists. Today we put more money in this business than we earn on it, but we strongly believe that this field of sport will develop.
How many people are involved in sport piloting drones?
In Poland, is this about two, three thousand people.
But how many people do it professionally?
It’s a very small group. Globally, there are about a hundred people who do not have another job and focus on drone racing. Of course, this number will expand, along with the growing number of sponsors and with the increase in the value of prizes.
What will change in this sport in five years?
Soon the technology will allow sports drones to be bigger. For now, there are only small models. But a drone that weighs several kilos, will have the power to blow out everything that stands on its route. Even more spectacular shows will attract television and other media attention. This is what we strive for.
All questions regarding drone racing may be sent to Maciej Poschwald at email@example.com.
Pictures by TrendNomad.com.
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