AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL 2018 has come to a close. This show is certainly the most important UAV and drone trade show of the year. All others are at best a distant second place and at worst not even worth walking.
There were 670 exhibitors at this year’s show, which is almost identical to the past two years. According to the Xponential app, the show wasn’t quite a sellout – there were a couple of empty booths. Not that the empty booths were noticeable walking around the show, so it’s possible that they were filled at the last minute. It felt like the show floor was a bit larger than last year, so maybe there were more big booths. The exhibitors themselves also seemed to be better established. Many of this year’s first-time exhibitors were established companies from other industries.
Everyone seemed to agree that the attendance was up this year. This is unlike last year when some thought attendance was up and others thought it was down. The crowd also seemed more professional than last year. More suits and less golf shirts; possibly a sign that the industry is maturing.
Quite a few UAV manufacturers exhibited this year. I’m not sure how many end users were at the show but I didn’t hear any complaints from these exhibitors, unlike in previous years.
Intel wasn’t nearly as prominent as they were last year. Their stand was at the far end of one of the aisles, they were almost unnoticeable.
The large Israeli UAV manufacturers were not present; although, both Elbit and IAI were show sponsors. Airobotics was there with their drone in a box. It’s quite an impressive system!
New for this year was a drone racing cage. These things sure are loud and they sure spend a lot of time tumbling to the ground after smacking into something. I didn’t see too many people watching the racing.
In terms of autopilots, there was absolutely no sign of Procerus. They are now clearly the in-house autopilot for Lockheed Martin. In addition, Cloud Cap’s presence was very modest. A small booth, 80% of which was dedicated to gimbals, with only a tiny space for autopilots. There were a number of new autopilot manufacturers present but when Airware can’t succeed in the autopilot business with $70 million of Silicon Valley talent, I’m not sure these other new entrants will have much of a chance.
There is a lot of talk about BVLOS which, I believe, will transform the industry. For all the talk there weren’t many solutions to the sense and avoid problem. So far, all the waivers granted so far for BVLOS flight require spotters.
There was one company, Iris automation, showing an early version of their vision-based sense and avoid system. Testing will be a big challenge. The testing they were working on was a ground-based system with light aircraft doing low passes. Unfortunately, this is not the right sort of testing as these targets are guaranteed to miss. An aircraft on a collision course looks different from one that will miss. The aircraft on a collision course does not move within your field of view, while the one that will miss moves across your wind screen.
If you are only going to attend one UAV industry trade show next year you’d better make it Xponential. It’s an excellent show; good value whether you exhibit or walk the show.