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What to expect at this year’s AUVSI Xponential drone show

March 21, 2018  - By

Tony Murfin
Contributing Editor, Professional OEM & UAV, GPS World

As the days tick down towards the always-anticipated Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Xponential convention in Denver May 1-3, the unmanned vehicle industry is preparing once more for one of its largest exhibitions.

More than 750 exhibitors will be spread over a huge 370,000-square-foot exhibit floor at the Colorado Convention Center and 8,500 visitors from unmanned systems and robotics are expected to come to share ideas, gain insights and carefully examine the unmanned innovations on show.

STEM Outreach. This year the show will not only feature industry innovation and growth, but will also highlight resources for potential science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates with interactive and engaging content, including:

  • A buildathon/hackathon to conceive, design and build inventions during a timed competition prior to Xponential. Final projects will be displayed on the Xponential show floor as a representation of innovation and collaboration.
  • A dedicated area in the Xponential exhibit hall will describe the STEM education programs and services supported by AUVSI and the AUVSI Foundation to foster and cultivate the next generation of innovators and leaders.
  • An area of the show floor will also showcase the winners of student robotics competitions.
  • Denver area high school students will be invited to tour the exhibit area to introduce them to emerging unmanned technologies and applications.
  • A reception at the show promises to mix young professionals in unmanned systems with seasoned industry leaders, and finally,
  • The Women and Diversity in Robotics forum will feature speed networking with leaders to review STEM opportunities for career-focused women and girls.

Survive and Thrive. Meanwhile, the Denver exhibition will demonstrate how the rapidly evolving world of UAVs has encouraged “survive and thrive” for those new entrants who together seem to have adapted to address almost any and all opportunities. We’ll mention a couple of examples here, and attempt to provide a better cross section of the huge number of companies and products present following the actual show.

For instance, one of the drawbacks for small, predominantly electric-powered, multi-rotor UAVs is that their endurance is limited. Providing longer duration operations may be outside their envelope — for such longer term things as providing temporary mobile-phone signal coverage, or police/agency reconnaissance/search, or for larger vertical inspection jobs.

Presumably, floating one of several available models of lighter-than-air, blimp-type UAVs might be more expensive or cumbersome than using a multi-rotor unmanned vehicle, so overcoming power-supply issues would seem to be key. One way to do this is to attach a strong tether bringing power up from the ground.

Orion UAS. The Elistair (France) Orion UAS will no doubt be featured on the company’s booth. This multi-rotor UAV has been developed for longer term aerial surveillance and telecommunications operations. Typical users include law enforcement, private and public safety, national security, asset protection, emergency communications and crisis management, so these tethered drones are deployed by police forces, public security departments, public and private security companies, and governments in more than 30 countries.

Photo: Elistair

Photo: Elistair

The Orion UAS uses industrial components and system redundancy, including autopilot sensors, motors, power distribution and logic controls, and has an emergency parachute system. The patented micro-tether system ensures a stable platform supplied with continuous power from the ground to enable up to 10 hours of endurance. The mechanical structure of the drone is designed to sustain strong winds with maximum stability. With system redundancies and automated emergency procedures, the user is able to focus on safety-critical missions and data collection, while the risk of human mistakes is reduced.

The onboard camera has both FLIR and optical, enabling night/day surveillance with gimbal stabilization and low latency — the 30x optical zoom makes it possible to detect a moving person from kilometers away. And the tether system provides high-speed, interference-free data transmission so the system is also virtually undetectable. It’s easy to see why tethered drones are becoming more popular for security applications.

Identifying UAVs. At the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Symposium last week in Baltimore, a key issue discussed concerned remote identification and tracking of drones. It would seem that the FAA is about to announce a new rule that could eventually clear the way for drones flying over people and beyond line-of-sight of their operators — and this may be a key topic of discussion at Xponential.

The FAA rule appears to mandate that every drone should in some way communicate its identification — presumably its FAA registration ID — so that its operator could also be known.

One well-known company, Ford, has already announced that it has a concept using onboard collision lights on a drone to optically signal the 10-digit FAA registration number to the ground for capture and decoding. Maybe other exhibitors at the show will have other solutions — perhaps radio based? We’ll see.

Sensefly eBee drone.

Sensefly’s eBee. At the sensefly booth, we may also hear about several interesting announcements on recent drone applications:

  • Products on display will include the RTK/PPK-enabled eBee Plus professional mapping drone, the eBee SQ drone for agricultural applications and the albris mapping and inspection drone, as well as the senseFly S.O.D.A camera and GeoBase.
  • In addition, senseFly sales manager and GIS scientist Briton Voorhees will deliver a presentation titled, “Comparing workflow and point cloud outputs of the Trimble SX10 TLS and senseFly eBee Plus drone,” on Wednesday, May 2, at 11 a.m. in the Mapping and Surveying Track.
  • Booth visitors can also find out more about senseFly’s comprehensive 360 solutions, which are designed to improve operational efficiencies and support decision-making in the surveying, mining and quarries, agriculture and inspection sectors.

And many more. GNSS players also expected to be at the show include Hemisphere GNSS, NovAtel, Rockwell-Collins, Septentrio, Tersus, Trimble, Accord/Aspen Avionics, Comnav, Navtech, Swift and Topcon, as well as GNSS chip manufacturers u-blox and Intel — although Intel may likely focus on its UAV/communications offerings at this show.

There will also be a number of antenna suppliers, inertial sensor manufacturers, UAV autopilot manufacturers and several ancillary electronics and mechanical systems suppliers — all trying to solidify their positions in the UAV vehicle and systems integration supply chain.

The major focus, as usual, will be on UAV/UAS vehicle manufacturers and system integrators and their products — there is always a great exhibition of actual UAVs from all sectors of the industry.

So, along with a parallel program of educational presentations on a wide range of industry aspects, the AUVSI Xponential convention promises to have plenty of opportunities to find things of interest to almost anyone, and many areas to focus on for experts already in the industry.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace

About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).