7 Big Announcements from AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2018

BY Zacc Dukowitz
4 May 2018

This week our team attended AUVSI XPONENTIAL for the first time. It was a great experience, full of learning, meeting other drone folks, and checking out the latest technology in the drone industry.

The conference covers not just drones, but all unmanned systems—AUVSI stands for Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International—but we’ll admit, we were mainly there for the drones.

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Alan pointing out the UAV Coach logo on the list of XPONENTIAL partners

The conference is huge. About 8,500 attendees were expected, and over 725 companies showed up as well. But it was so well organized that you never felt overwhelmed or disoriented. (By the way, kudos to the XPONENTIAL staff for all their great work!)

There were lots of great sessions at the conference. Some of the hottest topics were drone swarms, BVLOS, and the future of drone laws in the U.S., both at the state and federal level—but given that there were over 200 sessions, this is just a tiny sampling of what was covered.

Aside from the sessions, we had a great time catching up with old friends as well as making some new ones. It’s always great to see Chris Korody of the Drone Business Center (if you haven’t already subscribed to his weekly newsletter, you should—it’s one of the best out there), Colin Snow of Skylogic Research, Enrico Schaefer of Drone Law Pro, the Skyward, the folks from BFD Systems, the InterDrone team, the PrecisionHawk team, Sharon Rossmark and Wendy Erikson of Women and Drones, Elena Buenrostro of Women Who Drone, not to mention two of our top community forum members AV8 Chuck and Steve Bennett, as well as all the UAV Coach community members and students that we got to meet . . . we could go on, but suffice to say, there was a lot of great visiting and catching up.

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Alan with Drone Pilot Ground School student Jason Mazzo, owner of Mazzo Media

And, of course, there were some huge announcements made at XPONENTIAL this year. Let’s take a look.

7 Big Announcements from AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2018

1. PrecisionHawk’s BVLOS Pathfinder Report and BVLOS Drone

PrecisionHawk’s CEO Michael Chasen gave a rousing keynote on the first full day of the conference, during which he unveiled their new BVLOS platform and shared the research they conducted to find technology to enable flying beyond visual line of sight.

Flying drones over long distances–an imperative for inspecting miles of oil and gas pipeline in remote areas or hundreds of acres of crops–has been all but impossible to-date as the FAA requires very high safety standards from drone operators seeking to fly beyond line of sight.

– Michael Chasen, PrecisionHawk CEO

PrecisionHawk also released their FAA Pathfinder Report on BVLOS during the conference. The report is the result of three years of research in partnership with the FAA and MITRE, and PrecisionHawk says it can be used by companies as a blueprint for implementing their own BVLOS operations.

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Alan with PrecisionHawk’s huge BVLOS drone

2. 3DR’s New GCP App

During the conference 3DR released a new app that makes it simpler for those conducting surveys by drone to capture ground control points on commercial drone projects.

This is big news because it means cutting hours of time off the usual surveying process, which previously required manually inputting ground control points. The app is enabled by the Trimble® Catalyst™ on-demand Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

Tasks that were being done by highly paid experts can now become commonplace. In this case, we’re democratizing precision.

– Chris Anderson, 3DR CEO

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Capturing points with 3DR GCP and the Trimble Catalyst DA1 antenna

3. Intel’s Insight Platform

This week at the conference Intel revealed details about the Intel Insight Platform, a software solution for digital asset management.

The platform is a cloud-based digital asset management system that lets users store, share, and manage the data collected by commercial drone systems, allowing them to generate 2D and 3D models, take measurements, enable sharing and collaboration across teams, and run data analytics.

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4. Kittyhawk and Jeppesen Partner for LAANC Authorizations

Drone ops management platform Kittyhawk announced a collaboration with Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary, to work towards offering instant airspace authorization via LAANC on the Kittyhawk platform.

We’re approaching LAANC as more than just a faster authorization, but a critical piece to an effective drone operation. Real-time authorization without real-time visibility, enforcement, or compliance leaves more problems than solutions for commercial operators.

– Jon Hegranes, CEO of Kittyhawk

5. FAA Beta Testing for LAANC

Also during the conference the FAA announced the phasing in of a nationwide beta test of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which will allow for instant airspace authorizations. The test will deploy LAANC incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports, and follows the successful evaluation of a prototype LAANC system last November.

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We first heard about the nationwide LAANC rollout back in March. At the time, we didn’t know that the rollout would be a beta test—it will be interesting to see how quickly the system gets up and running, and to hear stories from pilots actually using it to get instant airspace authorizations.

6. AirBus and DroneBase Partnership

Airbus Aerial and DroneBase announced a partnership to offer the world’s first “multi-source data service solution for aerial imagery and data from a single provider.”

What this means is that the two companies will be combining resources to offer a single solution for aerial data, which will include data collected by DroneBase’s drone pilots as well as data from AirBus Aerial’s satellites.

We are very excited to announce this historic partnership that leverages Airbus Aerial’s significant investment in the automation of satellite, manned aviation, and drone data capture and analysis with the DroneBase API and their global pilot network.

– Jesse Kallman, Airbus Aerial President

The two companies anticipate that the partnership will be beneficial for rail companies, major utilities, and other companies whose operations take place over large areas with complex infrastructures, thus creating a need for various kinds of aerial data.

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7. Winners of the First Annual XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards

Finally, AUVSI partnered with DJI this year for the XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards, which were announced on the last day of the conference. We love that AUVSI is showcasing the different ways drone are being used for good all over the world!

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The five winners in the Humanitarian category each received a donation of $5,000 to help them increase the scale of their operations.

Here are the winners, with a short blurb about who they are and why the won:

  • Aeryon Labs, Inc. won for their efforts in providing critical aerial intelligence to first responders in Sint Maarten after Hurricane Irma.
  • DroneSAR UAV won for their Search and Rescue software solution, reducing the time to locate victims and reducing risk for search teams.
  • DroneSAR Chile is the first drone-based search and rescue organization in South America.
  • Nepal Flying Labs won for their amazing work in earthquake-struck Nepal, providing maps of the area to help families locate loved ones and protect their homes.
  • Zipline International won for their innovative and global-first program delivering blood supplies to remote clinics in Rwanda by drone.

As these organizations have shown, unmanned aircraft systems that are typically flown for commercial purposes are also capable of accomplishing vital humanitarian missions.

– Brian Wynne, AUVSI President and CEO

We’re excited to see companies across the drone industry teaming up to combine knowledge and resources, both for commercial purposes as well as humanitarian. We’re sure next year’s conference will feature even more innovation and growth, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

Zacc Dukowitz

Contributing Writer

Zacc Dukowitz is a contributing writer, and the former Director of Marketing for UAV Coach. A writer with professional experience in education technology and digital marketing, Zacc is passionate about reporting on the drone industry at a time when UAVs can help us live better lives. Zacc also holds the rank of nidan in Aikido, a Japanese martial art, and is a widely published fiction writer. Zacc has an MFA from the University of Florida and a BA from St. John's College. Follow @zaccdukowitz or check out zaccdukowitz.com to read his work.

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