31 Aug 2018

FAI International Drones Conference and Expo 2018: The Magic of Drone Sports

The second FAI International Drones Conference and Expo kicked off in Lausanne on Friday – with a session on the new world of Drones and Sport.

Speakers from across the world of drones converged on the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland to hear about the latest cutting-edge developments in the drone ecosystem.

“The magic of drone sports is firing imaginations around the world,” said FAI President Frits Brink as he welcomed delegates to the first day of the three-day conference.

“As more drones take to the sky, they bring new people into air sports. Drones push the boundaries of technology, as innovators create new technology and devices. The FAI is committed to developing the eco system around drones.”

Drone racing as a sport is developing at a fantastic pace, explained the FAI’s Antonis Papadopoulos. “It’s growing fast, appealing for youngsters and media friendly,” he explained.

Drone racing “may look kind of virtual” he said, “but in drone racing we are flying a real machine,in accordance with some rules. We believe we are the organisation that can connect the two worlds – eSports and air sports.”

Bruno Delor, who will be meet director at the 1st FAI World Drone Racing Championships in China in November, echoed his colleague. “Drone racing as a new class was introduced in the FAI on 1 January 2016. Since then we have seen phenomenal growth. In 2016 we had nine contests in seven countries, this year we have 23 in 18.”

The conference heard from pilots, engineers and blue-sky thinkers, who are all working to develop the drone sports in some way.

Lexie Janson, a young drone pilot from Poland, told the conference she had started drone racing 2014 when the sport “didn’t really exist”. Now she travels the world and competes at the highest level.

However, it isn’t simply the thrill of competition that kept her involved. “It’s the community, it’s about having fun. It escalated very quickly – I started to travel and all of a sudden it was my life.”

And Grantley Reed (top picture), from Freespace Drone Racing in Australia explained how his company was launching a new drone racing circuit in Australia using much bigger drones – up to 25kg with speeds of 220km/h.

“The most influential demographic in sports right now is Millenials, and that will be followed by Generation Z. Ages 11-37. It’s about creating emotions, we want to create the feeling that no one else does it like this.”

Timothée Peter from MotionPilot demonstrated a new drone hand-controller he had helped develop; Ralph Schepp from Deutsche Telekom explained how his company is working on developing a “mobile network for the air” to allow thousands of drones to fly at the same time in lower airspace and not hit each other.

And James Waite from UK company Drone Combat showed how he and his colleagues were working on a “cage fighting with drones” concept designed for TV audiences. “FlightBall would be a brilliant complement to Drone Racing and would allow people to come and try drone sports easily,” he said.

The session finished with the DRONEMASTERS MeetUp which features several speakers from the drone world.

Konstantin Kollar from German start-up Bluebird Mountain showed how drones could be used in mountain sports to help search for avalanche victims; while others envisioned university drone racing leagues and school championships.

Haydar Biyik from Copterproject received a special award from winning the Dronathon.

Underlying it all was an idea that sport is changing to reflect the times we live in.

“Game and play is culture, and the culture in this century is the digital space,” said Professor Miguel Angel from Spain’s Las Palmas University.

“This is why we have digital and e-sports. The old rules must adapt to this change. It is the new way to engage with the new generation.”

Photo credit: FAI/Marcus King