Every year, AUVSI organizes the biggest drone conference in the world – the perfect place to sense where this emerging technology is and where it’s heading. This year the industry met in Dallas, Texas. Here are some of my takeaways.
When attendees first arrive at Xponential, they may see the same people as last year’s AUVSI conference, telling the same stories or showing the same products. But if they look close enough, things are changing.
- AUVSI has finally signalled a shift from a focus on military drones to commercial drones. AUVSI has been trying to make this change for some time, and the result was evident at Xpontenial: roughly the same number of exhibitors, but a smaller-looking exhibition floor. Why? The big military players did not leave, but took smaller booths and mainly refocused on the commercial drone market.
- DJI’s effect on the market is clear: Only companies with deep pockets can compete in the multiroter market. There were fewer multiroters on the floor, as companies can’t keep up with their rapid improvements or low price. I expect this number will decrease even further with the launch of their Matrice 200 series. One company that could compete is Intel. During his keynote, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showcased two cool new technologies. One was very precise indoor navigation without GPS or an active OptiTrack system. And the second near real-time 3D mapping capability demonstrated live on an indoor bridge. This shows how Intel is leveraging advanced tech they acquired over the past years.
- Until hybrid drones are fully autonomous, fixed wings will be more reliable and cost effective. One of the newcomers at the show were the hybrid drones. They were everywhere. Designed to take advantage of the endurance of fixed wings and the easy take-off and landing capabilities of multirotors. But it is a compromise, so we have to wait until hybrids can be deployed without human operators for them to become serious alternatives. Airobotics is a good example of a company that has shown it can be achieved with multirotors. For the first time, they showed their drone-from-a-box system at AUVSI. And AeroVinci released the first video of their low-cost hybrid-from-a-box for Agriculture.
- Large corporations are acquiring drone services again, after being disappointed in the earlier days of the commercial drone industry. SkyFutures, Measure, Delair-Tech and Airware are all on the rise as they wheel in bigger contracts and partnerships. Accomplished by having a better focus and not by selling drones but deliver solutions that their clients need.
- AI is the new bling, everyone wants in on it. Drones produce massive amounts of data that now is analysed manually in offshore countries like India, a massive sunk cost. Using AI, cost and processing time could be cut significantly. But it’s an early market with a lot of over-promising. Startups that keep the human in the loop for now, are actually the ones delivering real results.
- One of the most interesting players that entered the commercial drone domain at Xponential is Airbus. Airbus has the potential to become big. For earth observation, they have their own satellites, planes, big drones and a global reach. The challenge for president of Airbus Aerial, Jesse Kallman, will be to leverage the company’s massive resources but at the same time stay agile like a startup to fast respond to the industry needs. A3, Airbus semi-independent Silicon Valley Lab, has shown that this is possible. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klRx3jZ-qb0 )
- Everyone talked about UTM, a low altitude air traffic control system for drones and other aircraft. At Xponential ICAO announced they want to get actively involved in designing the system and is calling for proposals. But will they be open to the existing initiatives from NASA, The Global UTM Association and SESAR? And can they speed up their normal decision making process?
- Robird and integrated drone solutions deployed at major international airport. Edmonton International Airport (“EIA”) will be the first ever airport in the world to integrate a full suite of drone services into their daily airport operations. This is a huge step for allowing drone operations to take place in the CTR. The robirds from Clear Flight Solutionsand Aerium will fly as close as 100 meters from an active runway. ( https://vimeo.com/216674502 )
- There was a new way for our friends in the drone industry to gather: The Drone Stars Club. We had a blast at the Aloft hotel where our members and their guests used the Club for meetings, networking, hit the stage for some karaoke or just chilled at the pool and get a massage. A very big thank you to all our members, sponsors and guests for making this happen. Overall a big success and I can’t wait to host our next Club event!