AUVSI to host massive trade show, works with US UAV regulators

January 20, 2016  - By
Image: GPS World

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has renamed its major annual conference — XPONENTIAL — and the 2016 edition will be held in New Orleans at the Morial Convention Center on the west bank of the Mississippi, May 2–5. The huge convention center is hosting the event across two large halls, with more than 350,000 square feet of space for up to 600 exhibits.

With 370 exhibitors already signed up, you might want to decide who to put on your visit list if you’ve never been to one of these AUVSI exhibitions. Because just roaming the show floor without a plan can lead to frustration and exhaustion — the show is huge, not only in square feet, but also in the number and size of the exhibits. Full-size helicopters, Humvee-type vehicles and drones — lots and lots of different types of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) or drones for any and all applications.

There is everything a drone manufacturer might need to develop and integrate into the latest small (sUAV), medium or large quadcopter, hexcopter, octocopter, fixed wing or STOL (short take-off and landing) air vehicle. Plus, you’ll find ground vehicles and surface and underwater vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

Propellers, engines, payloads of all sorts including cameras, radars, IR and lasers, plus connectors and electrical, mechanical and electro-mechanical components and systems, manufacturing systems, 3D printing, modeling, designing, developing — all in all, too much stuff to even mention everything that goes into, onto and processes/tools for manufacturing a UAV.

But, of course, our interest might be more readily captured by the booths exhibiting flight-control systems, sensors, antennas, autopilots, inertial, satellite and terrestrial radios and services, computing, GNSS and other guidance systems — and even avionics for drones. UAV ground control systems (UAV + ground control system = unmanned air system or UAS) are also present in force, along with all their constituent pieces. A ground control system can be more complex than a larger UAV, or sometimes as simple as an app on a tablet.

Applications are also featured in exhibit groupings for survey and mapping, air and start-up. Also, a large number of U.S. states and related academic, research, test and development organizations are represented this year, along with dedicated Chinese, French, Canadian and UK exhibit areas.

There also seems to be some presence for insurance, legal, certification and training organizations aiming to support the emerging commercial opportunities that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Section 333 approvals have enabled. The FAA continues to grant Section 333 exemptions, which have allowed commercial, research and agency drones to fly in the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) on a trial and operational basis.

The FAA issued a fact sheet in mid-December that outlined safety reasons for federal oversight of aviation and airspace, and explained federal responsibility in this area. The object appears to be to let states know that the FAA has federal jurisdiction, and is therefore in charge of regulating access to and operations in the U.S. NAS. The fact sheet perhaps also aims to slow down recent state and city efforts — such as those in Miami, Albany County and New Jersey — to publish their own ordinances and laws related to UAV activity.

Meanwhile, the FAA’s recent UAV registration requirements for anything unmanned that takes to the air in the U.S. have met with mixed reactions. U.S. drone operators have indeed already complied and registered more than 181,000 UAVs, but one individual has filed a suit against the FAA alleging Section 333 does not allow the FAA to make any new rules or regulations regarding model aircraft if they’re flown for hobby or recreational purposes. We’ll have to see how this all turns out — AUVSI, which represents a good portion of the UAS industry, has already come out supporting the FAA’s UAV registration program.

AUVSI continues to call for the FAA to publish regulations that would allow small UAVs to operate in the U.S. NAS. These small UAV regulations have been in the works for several years and have yet to be formally released or implemented by the FAA. AUVSI argues that if these regulations were to be released, the commercial UAV industry would really take off and produce billions in revenue and create thousands of jobs.

In order to help move UAV integration forward, NASA has been working on traffic management concepts for UAS. The first section of this system was tested in August, looking mostly at topics such as geofencing so drones automatically avoid certain restricted areas, and also trajectory planning.

Google and Amazon have also been looking into UAS Traffic Management (UTM) systems. Amazon has proposed a high-speed UAS transit corridor between 200 and 400 feet, with slower vehicles flying below, and larger ones above it. Verizon has also been exploring how cellular networks could be used to enhance drone safety in the future. The FAA’s Pathfinder Programs also aim to investigate areas, such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights, that may assist in the development of UTM.

So, XPONENTIAL 2016 is a great UAV show to put in your calendar (May 2-5 in New Orleans) if you have interest in learning more about UAV/UAS, or in moving further into the growing business of UAVs, plus lots of related activity promising growth for actual UAV commercial operations in the U.S. There is always a lot going on nowadays in the world of unmanned vehicles.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace

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