The second annual InterDrone conference was held from September 7-9 in Las Vegas. Well over 3,000 people participated in the event, with attendees from all 50 states and 56 countries. With the unmanned systems (a.k.a. “drones”, “UAS”, “UAV”) industry being relatively new and constantly evolving, I chose to attend this conference to both consume knowledge and meet others in the drone business. This was easy to do with 120 options in classroom sessions, panels, and keynotes, along with 155 exhibitors from around the world.

In his opening comments to welcome the keynote speaker Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration Michael P. Huerta, InterDrone host BZ Media president Ted Bahr joked that the industry is so new that drone operators with 2-3 years of experience are “grizzled veterans”. Administrator Huerta highlighted the FAA’s collaborative efforts over the years to help shape and properly regulate UAS. Safe integration of aircrafts is a high priority and the collaboration has attempted to balance maintaining safety but not snuffing out innovation. He also discussed the progress and increased pace of Section 333 exemption applications as well as the impending increased activity with the passing of Part 107 on August 29. In the first 3 months of the Section 333 availability, the FAA approved exemptions for 7 operators. In the first day of Part 107 going into effect, they issued 76 waivers – a sign of both increased activity but also the FAA’s willingness to adapt and be flexible for operator needs.

Other highlights for me from other keynotes throughout the conference include:
• Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and Founder of DIY Drones, spoke of the once-in-a-lifetime transformation occurring of extending the internet out to the world; as well as the formation of Dronecode, an open-source consortium of big players in the industry building cloud infrastructure – becoming the “Android of UAVs”.
• Hugh Palmer, Director of Product Management at Local Motors (one cool company), discussed the open-source co-creation design platform used by the company to innovate through the collective knowledge of 60,000 designers, engineers, suppliers, customers and more. I would love to see their Olli system experimented here in Fargo Moorhead.
• Tian Yu, CEO of Yuneec, wowed the crowd with the technology coming out of their 600,000 sq. ft. facility. The bird-like maneuvering of the Typhoon H. The newly released Breeze 4K which can be controlled by an IOS or Android device.

IMG_3101From all the sessions I attended and visiting with the exhibitors, there are many tidbits of newly-gained knowledge I could share in this story. However, I will limit my remaining comments to several things I learned:

• Maintaining safety and privacy is an important concern to the industry, and something they continuously strive for.
• I was surprised by how many drone manufacturing companies, large and very small, are out there attempting to gain their share of the market. The future “Great Consolidation” that may come as market leaders arise and technology evolves.
• Some of the biggest opportunities in the industry will be from the post-production service companies that can solve the issues of how to quickly analyze and interpret all that data being collected.
• Venture capitalists are still mostly just watching the ever-growing industry, determining when and where to invest. Investments by the Facebooks, Googles, Intels, Qualcomms, and Verizons of the world are bringing further credibility to the opportunities in drones.
• The drone industry is more than just aircraft’s. It’s robotics. It’s autonomous machines. It’s the Internet Of Things. It’s more & more.
• As one exhibitor mentioned to me, drones have been around longer than we think. Both his mom and my mom have had iRobot Roombas for years. He stated that his mom owns just as my drones as he does.
• The technology of software company Neurala blew my mind with their neural networks deep learning (artificial intelligence) that allows devices to find, recognize, learn and engage.
• PowerVision’s PowerEgg is a beautiful work of art. I want one.

I can easily say my goal to gain knowledge and network within the industry was attained. I still have 30 pages of notes and countless marketing materials to go through as I continue to absorb what I experienced at InterDrone. As one of the six FAA UAS test sites in the country, North Dakota strives to be a leader in supporting and developing the technology that is changing our world. As an economic developer for the Fargo Moorhead metro, I look forward to all the innovation and technological advances that can be derived out of our part of the country.

Guest post, Authored by: John Machacek, Senior V. President, Finance & Entrepreneurial Development, GFMEDC

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Lindsay Breuler