At AUVSI’s annual trade show this year, the number of exhibitors increased slightly in comparison to last year, from 668 to 687. I’m not sure if AUVSI releases official attendance numbers. Of course, everyone on the show floor had an opinion about the relative size of this year’s show versus 2016. The opinion of the show floor was mixed; some thought it was larger and some thought that it was smaller in size.
Regardless of whether the number or exhibitors and attendees had increased or decrease slightly, one thing was perfectly clear: this is “the” show for the drone industry. No other show could even come close. There were plenty of exhibitors and the aisles were packed, even the last day of the show is usually a yawner at most shows, however, this show was busy to the last day.
My opinion is that the show was significantly busier than last year. MicroPilot definitely had quite a few more meetings, saw more customers, and collected more leads. This was could be due to better pre-show organization on our part, but I think at least part of the increase was due to the size of the show itself.
A noticeable difference between XPONENTIAL 2017 and 2016 was the decline in military attendance at the show. This change has been underway for a while. Years ago, it seemed every third person was in uniform, but this year, I can’t remember seeing anyone in uniform.
The presence of military UAV manufacturers and suppliers has also declined dramatically in comparison to last year; this was the year when this decline was especially noticeable. IAI did not have a booth, Elbit’s booth was tiny, Aeronautics was not present, and L3 downsized from a “can’t miss it” size booth a couple years ago, to something smaller. I don’t know the size of L3’s booth because while they are on the exhibitor’s list I did not notice them at the show.
If there was a theme to 2017, it was the emergence of vendors providing cloud based data processing and data visualization software. Collecting data is “job one” for drones, so this certainly makes sense.
The final trend is the disappearance or near disappearance of two notable autopilot manufacturers. The Airware autopilot was nowhere to be found. Clearly, after spending fifty million dollars trying to develop a drone autopilot, they gave up and switched to cloud based data processing services. Autopilots are hard and it seems fifty million was not enough.
The other autopilot manufacturer is Cloud Cap. In 2016 they had a booth larger than our twenty by twenty. In 2017 they were down to a ten by ten, the smallest booth possible. This speaks volumes of UTC’s lack of commitment to Cloud Cap. The people I talked to at the booth claimed they were lucky that UTC even let them take this tiny booth.
The show was well organized (as always). The cost of a booth is quite modest, especially given the traffic. The show was true to the formula AUVSI has used for many years. A formula that I am sure will continue to deliver an excellent event for years to come.