To say there are a plethora of options when it comes to conferences, events and expos that focus on commercial drone technology is a bit of an understatement. The Skytango team put together a list of over 80 commercial drone events for 2016, and that list could easily have been much bigger if their criteria for inclusion weren’t as strict. Their 2017 list is even larger.
Figuring out which commercial drone show is going to be worth attending is something that individuals and organizations as a whole should consider in detail, and Colin Snow has already laid out five criteria that provides an ideal place to start the process. There are plenty of commercial UAV events, but it’s critical for commercial operators to really explore whether or not a particular event can meet their precise requirements. Some events claim to help commercial end users understand the value and benefits of using drones in their business operations, even though they aren’t able to get specific about how those same users can actually see real value and opportunity when it comes to things like ROI and adoption.
I can’t tell you which commercial drone show is going to be the right one for you, but I can tell you what makes the Commercial UAV Expo different, and that difference stems from a focus on how professionals in construction, agriculture, mining, surveying and plenty of other industries are actually using these tools. That focus was evident throughout the 2016 event, which is something exhibitors, speakers and attendees all got to see and experience for themselves.
Drone Updates and Innovations
One issue that commercial drone operators often get caught up around concerns the speed of the industry as a whole. Understanding how and where drones can make a difference is just a first step, because the technology that enables these changes is evolving at a rapid pace with no sign of slowing down.
The product preview session at the Commercial UAV Expo provided a great venue for attendees to see what sort of innovations are either here right now or just around the corner. Companies like DroneDeploy and Autodesk talked through the new set of features they had just announced, while companies like Airware and Topcon showcased their products in a brand new light. Other companies that presented the specific innovations they had either released or were working on include microdrones, senseFly, Velodyne LiDAR, Altavian, Phoenix Aerial Systems and Bentley.
The Expo provided the ideal time for many organizations to showcase a specific innovation as well. Aerotenna announced the world’s smallest collision avoidance system for UAVs, Aerialtronics highlighted the work they’ve been doing with IBM and NVIDA to create the world’s first automated inspections by an intelligent drone with deep learning capabilities and Rutgers University showcased the first unmanned vehicle capable of operating in the air and underwater with a seamless transition between the two. Other companies that made announcements which will have short term and long term impacts in the space include Intel, Smartvid.io and FlyCam UAV.
There were 130 companies with a presence on the exhibit floor, which contained 169 booths. The show floor provided attendees with a great opportunity to ask specific questions with key contacts at companies like Trimble, Altavian, RIEGL, PrecisionHawk, PIX 4D, Leica, Topcon, Drone Deploy and senseFly, just to name a handful. Being able to engage with such a diverse and concentrated amount of organizations that are focused on commercial UAV technology is something that no other commercial drone show can offer.
For a quick look at the people as well as the questions that were being asked and answered on the show floor, check out the video interviews we put together with companies such as Flyability, Phoenix LIDAR Systems, Epson and plenty more.
Listening to the Experiences of Drone Leaders
A key consideration around figuring out how and if drone technology is going to make a difference is being able to showcase the insights and experiences from people who are both involved with and enabling those differences. The keynotes at the Expo all were able to highlight the present and future of what it means to use a UAV in a professional setting.
Mark Bathrick, U.S. Department of the Interior, opened up the event by talking through the “Four Must-Have Competencies for Commercial UAV Success”. Since he oversees the safe operation of over 1,200 contracted and government-owned manned and unmanned aircrafts across a wide range of business applications, it was a subject that he was able to speak to in specific detail.
Robbie Hood, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program office since 2008, followed him to talk through the “Impact of UAVs on Investments in Data Management”. Drones are able to gather a tremendous amount of data, but figuring out the best way to collect, process, analyze and store that info is a challenge that organizations of all sizes are working through.
Jonathan Downey, Founder and CEO of Airware, looked to the future by exploring the past and present with a keynote that focused on “What’s Possible & What’s on the Horizon”. The lessons he’s learned over the past few years in this space are incredibly illuminating, and they’re ones you can read about for yourself as Jonathan turned his keynote into a blog post.
Bob Young, CEO, PrecisionHawk, was also focused on the future with his “Commercial UAVs: Transitioning into Tomorrow” keynote. He discussed how and why drones are set to have an impact not just in specific industries and on the bottom line, but in terms of creating an ecosystem the future of this technology and its applications can build upon.
John Rogers, Jr. CEO & Co-founder of Local Motors, talked through his “Lessons Learned and Vision for the Future”. He discussed what it means to be involved with technology that moves so fast, and why it necessitates the creation of new business models that will be able to keep up with these kinds of changes.
Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, explained why “The Opportunity is in the Information” during his address. His vision around transitioning data into actual information is a process that many companies are struggling with, but being able to assess how and why this topic needs to be considered cannot be overstated. Being able to make sure operators and clients don’t end up drowning in drone data is a topic we’ve covered, and it’s only going to become a bigger issue as drones become more and more technologically capable.
Anil Nanduri is Vice President in the New Technology Group and General Manager of the UAV segment at Intel Corporation, and he was able to share a number of the “UAV Initiatives at Intel” that he’s especially focused on. He discussed Intel’s vision as well as the technologies and collaborative approaches that will be key for mass use of commercial drones.
Experience remains the best teacher, and it’s especially ideal when that experience can be provided from multiple perspectives. The insights from users like Mark as well as drone industry leaders like Jonathan showcased to attendees what it means for commercial operators to use a drone in the present and what that will mean for their future and the future of the industry.
Focused Sessions and Education Tracks
I mentioned that one of the issues in the commercial drone show space surrounds the desire to be as specific as possible in terms of how drones can make an actual difference to the bottom line. It’s great that we’re all excited about the billions of dollars the technology represents, but what does that mean for the project manager at a construction company who’s looking to leverage a drone right now? What does it mean for the surveyor who has clients asking if they can cut costs by using a drone?
The Commercial UAV Expo set up a number of different tracks that were focused on the specific application of UAV technology in various industries, and they were being led by professionals who work in those spaces. Whether we’re talking about the Precision Agriculture track that featured Young Kim from Digital Harvest, Landon Smith from Midwest UAV and Chad Colby from Colby AgTech or the Process & Power track that had Maria Riggio from Exelon, Dave Truch from BP and Dexter Lewis from Southern Company or the Utilities & Inspection track that had Art Pregler from AT&T, Chris Hickling from Edison Electric Institute and Jan Stumf from Intel, all of the sessions spoke to the specifics of how UAV technology is being utilized by working professionals in those markets.
What’s more, while those tracks appealed to professionals in specific verticals, horizontal tracks were also taking place throughout the event. The Legal Developments, Policy Changes, Legislative Updates track featured Greg Walden from Akin Gump, Greg McNeal from Airmap and Dean Griffith from the FAA. The Planning for Upcoming Investments track featured presentations around what to expect from the UAV market as well as a look at which sectors are growing and which are not.
Juan Plaza put together a few thoughts about the Surveying & Mapping track that he was able to attend, and I was able to check out the Construction track for a write-up over in Construction Today. More than anything else, this focus on how drone technology makes sense for specific professionals is what makes the Commercial UAV Expo stand out from other drone shows that are either based on a single application or focus on the future of the technology at the expense of the present.
A Professional Audience
Determining what sort of people are going to be at a particular event can sometimes be difficult to figure out. What sort of people attend these events? Who exactly will you be able to meet? What kinds of things are they looking to discover?
As I mentioned, the specific industry tracks were designed to attract specific professionals in those spaces, which is why farming, mining, construction, surveying, oil & gas and plenty of other industry specific professionals comprised the vast majority of the audience. You can read what attendees of the event had to say for themselves about being there, but it’s one of the few events in the space where the person standing next to you might be the administrator for a state department of transportation, or an engineer from NASA or the UAS operator for an oil & gas fracturing company.
Additionally, events like the Women in Drones Luncheon provide a venue for attendees to engage with one another on a different level and discuss issues and topics that are specifically relevant to them. The First Responders UAS Hot Wash and Industry Reception at the Tropicana provided additional locations and venues for attendees to connect with one another on a personal and professional level.
All Work and No Play…
The exhibitors, attendees and speakers at the Commercial UAV Expo came to the event to learn about the technology, connect with one another, gather insights from each other’s experiences and talk through how the technology has and will be making a difference in their respective spaces. All of them were very focused on figuring out what makes sense for UAVs in the present and future in their respective industries.
Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t ever time to relax a little bit, and because the 2016 Commercial UAV Expo took place over Halloween weekend, everyone had an excuse to have some fun. That included a Halloween Happy Hour, costumes and an appearance by (a) Michael Jackson (impersonator).
Everyone who attends industry events is always looking to gather some key insights, and the Commercial UAV Expo provided plenty of opportunities to do just that. At the same time though, it’s important to keep things in perspective, and if listening to a live performance of “Thriller” doesn’t do that, I don’t know what will.
The Commercial Expo is a different kind of drone show, and it’s going to be back in 2017 in Las Vegas, but before then it will be expanding to Europe. For anyone looking to get a better understanding around the specific ways in which drone technology can make an impact on your bottom line or how it can change the way you do business, stay tuned for more info about the 2017 Commercial UAV Expo.
For more about the 2016 event, check out plenty more pictures below or take a look at all of our exclusive coverage from the event.