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UAV Expo – A Growing Industry That’s Growing Up!

Dan Gruidel

This year’s UAV Expo had a strong agenda featuring a mix of sessions and speakers representing multiple commercial markets. Breakout sessions included electric utilities, oil and gas, infrastructure, agriculture, insurance and civil markets. The sessions featured a solid mix of industry use cases, drone platforms, and service providers, including software for image analytics. For the record, I fit into the latter category -- full disclosure!

I attended this same event a year ago, so I thought it might be useful to compare and contrast the noticeable changes from one year to the next.

Overall: Drones are still on the rise, but analytics and end products matter more than ever.

Drones and more drones appear on the floor every year. It is always great to see the latest and greatest. A few things jumped out this year and it happened in the opening session when DJI brought up some of their key stats including surpassing $1B in sales. The other item of interest wasn’t so much discussed, but was the fact that UAV Commercial bought out the Drone Expo and next year the show will be even bigger.

Remote sensing applications continue to evolve as do the business models

While there are plenty of drones out flying around, data being collected still seems to be all over the map. Sensor information and capability is key to the project. Do you have the right sensor for the right project and does it align to your business model? I had some good discussions about merging satellite imagery with UAV imagery, as well as about processing imagery to make sure the end product you produce is accurate and useful.

Utilities and Agriculture have solid use cases and results

A few speakers were bold enough to state that while drones are great, the data is the product and the analytics on the image provides the true value. I found this interesting since many service providers are reaching out to their customers and pitching flights, but the buyer is not just buying the flight. They also require quality data that is suitable for processing and analysis to gain insights. This is a big difference from the year before where the speakers spent time talking about the value of drones in industry and now they are talking about the need to deliver analytics and deep learning and answers! This is particularly true for agriculture where the panel all agreed that they need to go beyond just analytics and get into predictive modelling when possible. I suspect that will continue to be a growing theme in the year to come.

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