The InterDrone17 issue of Dronin' On 09.09.2017
The NVIDIA Jetson TX-2

Hi all –

Live from Las Vegas. The last sessions at InterDrone are concluding – what a week it was. More content than you can imagine, more friends new and old, more discussions over drinks, sinks and bars than ever. I am staying in Vegas tonight to make sure you have something to go with your morning coffee, while the entire East Coast contingent is hoping that their red eyes will take off tonight.

THANKS

Big thanks to my panels on LiDAR and 3D Mapping, Big Data and Under The Hood. It was an amazing group of people who are moving the industry forward. Also, special thanks to Anil Nanduri from Intel, Jesse Clayton from NVIDIA and Dr. Max Versace from Neurala who took the time to meet with me one-on-one to share their plans and insights. (More about this in a minute.)

A special shout out to Dr. Arif Erkoca and the team from Electronics Valley who interviewed me for their InterDrone edition of EV Magazine on The Continuing Importance of Standards to UAV Adoption. Lovely, gracious people who are committed to growing the industry. Good article too if I say so myself.

MILESTONES

We had some milestones this week.

First, thank you to Ted Bahr, the founder of InterDrone who is handing over the keys with a fine flourish – some 4,000 attendees from 59 countries and all 50 states, 300+ media and some 175 exhibitors on a beautiful show floor. All new records that speak to the value of the event and the growth of the industry. Props to the BZ Media team – Carl, Caroline and the rest of the hardworking crew. And if you’re wondering, the Rio is a fine venue with decent food and plenty of room to grow. They’ll be back next year.

In a bittersweet moment, it’s time to say good bye and a huge thank you to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who opened InterDrone for the last time. Believe it or not, it is the one year anniversary of Part 107. Thanks in no small part to Michael’s efforts, there are now some 60,000 RPICs and 80,000 registered commercial drones. No word as to who the new administrator will be, but Hoot, Karen and their folks will carry on. So long as Congress doesn’t do something silly with ATC we should have good continuity.

REGULATION

On that swampy subject, it looks as though we will get a three to six month reauthorization – the report is that Rep. Shuster (R-PA) is blaming the Senate but in fact he doesn’t seem to have the votes to privatize in his own House… You do remember that privatizing the ATC was touted as the crown jewel of the administration’s infrastructure plan a few months ago….?

We will get a good glimpse into our collective future in November when we get the first look into what the DAC taskforces have been doing. A number of people working on various subcommittees went out of their way to talk about how much effort people are putting into the process. So, fingers crossed. And thank you!

Some good news out of Foggy Bottom. The House passed the bi-partisan SELF DRIVE Act, which lays out a federal framework for autonomous vehicle testing. WIRED has the story – of particular interest to our community is:

“The legislation works out a way for the federal government’s rules to trump state laws and rules… States still have authority over vehicle registration and licensing, but they’ll have a harder time making demands about what goes on inside the car.”

AUTONOMY

Here’s why this is important. The biggest idea this week is that AI, neural networks and machine learning – in short, all the secret sauce that goes into autonomous vehicles – is making its way to the drone market.

X marks the spot at the top of the page with the image of the NVIDIA Jetson TX-2 board – a massive parallel processing GPU about the size of a business card that goes on-board the drone to provide what is called “edge” processing.

Here’s my over simplified take. Using a man to oversee a robot destroys the economic advantage. Having a man hand fly, slows down most missions. Nor does it make any sense for people to wade through mass quantities of photos or other data to find the needle in the haystack or the anomaly or the missing link. Nor is it great when customers have to wait to get actionable data. In effect, the answer is to use robots to manage the missions and the data.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich made this the focus of his keynote. The Intel Falcon 8+ benefits from Real Sense which makes it easier to fly and so to collect more consistent data. The pitch is one button to push and then the drone executes the mission automatically.

The new Intel Insight Platform – a cloud-based data processing, analytics and reporting service allows customers to store, share and manage drone data. Krzanich is still working his “data is the new oil” metaphor, which honestly isn’t getting any traction with anyone. Hopefully, the comms team will cap that well shortly and move on to something else. But the vision is pretty clear and it’s all around being able to collect then process ever richer data sets to train neural networks (like Neurala’s) on big Xeon server farms than download to onboard processors (theirs is Movidius).

For all of the entrepreneurial goodness on display, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the future of the industry will increasingly be shaped by big, primarily publicly traded players like Intel, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, NXP and Verizon. These are companies that have talent and can afford the investment and gestation period. In part it’s because not all of their eggs are in the drone basket – development costs are being spread across multiple markets – IoT, automotive, aerospace, services and others.

THE FORECAST

Not sure why, but there were lots of discussions about how this year’s event was different from last year’s event. So, I wanted to share some impressions.

First the giddy buzz that we enjoyed last year was gone. The UAV Coach, Alan Perlman thought that was because last year Part 107 had just been announced. The world was new and filled with optimism and whatever it is they sell at oxygen bars. This year not so much.

We’ll hear from Colin Snow in a few weeks when he shares the findings of his new survey, but the early word is that service providers are struggling to make a buck. It’s not exactly clear if supply outstrips demand, because on some level I believe that market demand for drone services has yet to materialize at all. As predicted, growth is extremely uneven. That said, first-time attendance from aspiring service providers was way up.

Another possible tell-tale was that there were no investment or VC panels. And there were fewer lawyers. Both tribes are known for their commitment to following the money. Of course, that could be the result of a conference
programming decision.

I ran into Bill Carey, Senior Editor, Aviation International News and author of the essential history, Enter The Drones. Bill made a point of saying that the aviation press is still struggling to figure out how to work sUAS into their larger reportage.

Drone360 just announced that they are killing the print version of their very handsome magazine because ads and subscriptions didn’t match projections. This following the cancellation of their June conference. Glad to see they will be continuing online – they do some excellent reporting.

Not sure of the what’s and whys, but Yuneec’s US President Mike Kahn resigned. This hard on the heels of the launch of the very orange H520 Hexacopter – and an InterDrone keynote by new Global CEO Michael Jiang. I missed his keynote – but he needs to work on getting the Intel love back.

All of this, along with the perilous straits Aerialtronics finds itself in, are clues that the next few years could be a long slow grind. It’s becoming much easier to imagine what the industry will look like in five to ten years, than what it will look like in 2018-19.

Once the autonomous parts come together (and of course BVLOS) people are predicting that “the sky will be black with drones.” Reminiscent of Chris Anderson and Greg McNeal in 2016.

Meanwhile, the exhibitors appear to be segmenting. Lisa Murray, the drone boss at Commercial UAV Expo, was on hand with a large team and shared that she only expected a ~30% exhibitor overlap between InterDrone and Commercial UAV Expo Americas coming up October 24-26. She doesn’t think anyone is exhibiting at all three fall shows. It doesn’t pencil.

C-UAS

CUAS was much in evidence but not nearly at the noise level I expected. This is clearly a segment that needs some regulatory support. I missed the CUAS panel that Hoot moderated, but apparently he made it pretty clear that they need some progress on the Hill to be able to deal with the perceived threat.

Had a chance to spend some time with Brady Cass from Gryphon Sensors who brought his big boy radar and RF detectors. They are deep into UTM and are getting ready to do some tests in New York that we will be talking about in a month or two. Interesting model, they are a spin off from defense contractor, SRC.

Enjoyed a great dinner and discussion with Steve Flynn from SkyTango who flew from Australia to Ireland to Las Vegas to do his panel, and CUAS cyber and forensics expert David Kovar about whether it will take a sUAS incident in the United States to tip things over and open the door for DHS to take over
drone security.

With the clarity of a fine cabernet we concluded two things – first, given the efficiency of driving cars into crowds, a sUAS is comparatively not all that effective. And secondly that it didn’t need to happen in the US – just in a country we care about… We’ll see.

HURRICANE HARVEY

Good counterpoint when I ran into Sean Guerre who produced the very successful Energy Drone Coalition Summit in Houston a few months back. Thankfully he and his team made it through high and dry. He had some good news – because of Harvey, people are getting firsthand experience of the contribution that drones can make to their well-being. Finally, some real world proof points that the mainstream media is picking up on.

Especially noteworthy is the work of CRASAR, the Center for Robotic-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas A&M. According to the post:

CRASAR coordinated the largest known deployment of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by public officials for a federally declared disaster- both serving as Air Operations for manned and unmanned aircraft and deploying small UAS ranging in size from DJI Mavics to the Insitu ScanEagle. The deployment was for the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management with whom CRASAR had provided assets for previous floods. CRASAR flew 119 mission flights from August 25 (preparing for landfall) to September 4 (when the emergency life-saving response and restoration of services phases of the disaster were largely over), with a record 61 flights on one day. 

Hats off to Justin Adams, who served as Air Operations branch director and led the deployment. There are panels in your future sir. And to the FAA for getting the waivers out on a timely basis.

Had a visionary discussion with Bruce Parks of the Drone Pilots Federation who focuses on first responders and is beginning to promote the idea of something like a Civil Air Patrol with drones. Imagine beofre, during or after a disaster being able to access a directory to locate certified individuals who have the skills to integrate with first responder teams anywhere in the country and some kind of pipeline into the FAA for fast approvals. It is a really big idea.

Sad to say that we are liable to gain a lot more experience this weekend in Florida. Stay dry guys.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

A number of aircraft manufacturers used the occasion to launch new products. I spent some time with Guy Chernin, the CMO of Atlas Dynamics from Latvia who was there to introduce the Atlas Pro product line. They are targeting the enterprise market and their effort is supported by a $8M funding round. Slick, beautifully designed products and an interesting pitch about being an aerospace company, not a drone company. They’ll be flying against the Intel Falcon 8+ so we’ll see how that goes.

Joelle Coretti from Drone World Expo wants you to know that end-users of UAS technology may qualify for complimentary full conference passes – but the offer expires Friday, September 22. Here’s the link. It’s a different slant and a different cast of characters. Looking forward to it – San Jose, CA October 3-4.

Finally, a little Eye Candy. This year 23 videos in seven categories made it into the InterDrone Film Festival. Here they are. Having spent some happy days there on my sailboat, I got a kick out of Avalon. Not great video but you gotta love the song. Also from home waters is Poseidon which is a terrific pulse pounding piece filmed at a legendary OC surf spot known (for reasons that will be obvious) The Wedge.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. And for all the kind words from those of you who stopped to say hello. I was glad to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with each of you.

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
DroneBusiness.center
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @dronewriter