Thoughts from AUVSI 2013

While I was unable to make it in time for the first day, I did manage to attend the entire second day through to the end of AUVSI 2013 on the 15th. I spent almost my entire 3 days talking to folks on the exhibition floor, because thats where the cool toys are. Of course, of interest to LIDAR News readers, there were well-known industry players: Teledyne (Optech), Riegl, Trimble, Advanced Scientific Concepts, Neptec, MDL, LTI, Novatel, and many more. Interestingly, many of these companies were not in attendance 5 years ago.

According to AUVSI, this year the exhibit consisted of:

350,000 square feet of exhibit space

8,000 attendees from the military, government labs and regulatory agencies, law enforcement and first responders, academia, and industry

Take aways:

Doubling of attendance and exhibitions in 5 years

Many new platform entrants

Wide variety of sensors and support systems (with LIDAR readily apparent)

Large contingent of 3D capture and rendering (3D printing) firms

Heavy emphasis on emergent commercial applications

Lack of uniformed personnel

My first impression was of the sheer magnitude of the show. I have not attended this event in about 5 years. I would estimate that the attendance and the list of exhibitors has more than doubled since then. Additionally, the breadth and scope of categories of exhibitors has expanded tremendously.

No longer are there a handful of small firms interspersed among the giants (i.e. Boeing, Lockheed, Honeywell, Northrop, United Technologies, L3, FLIR, iRobot, DRS, Sikorsky, – the list goes on). Rather, the number of small and medium sized firms is huge and seems like a swarm around the few booths of the goliaths. Additionally, there have been many acquisitions (many that we know from the LIDAR world such as MDL acquired by Renishaw, Optech acquired Teledyne) in the intervening years.

One of the clearly new elements I observed was the plethora of companies, generally small and mostly off-shore, who were selling small and micro-UAV platforms. Some are not much more than RC toys, but are more than capable of carrying small HD cameras and video systems. There were demo flights of small quad copters with GoPro cameras, autonomous rovers with Sick and Hokuyo LIDAR sensors (for perception and sense-and-avoid). This seems to be a game-changer to me. When LIDAR sensors become small enough to fit on these platforms, suddenly inaccessible areas will be able to be scanned, while costs are driven down and efficiencies are maximized.

Other noteworthy aspects of the show were:

There were even new entrants like LEDDAR, a small Canadian firm that uses LED technology in a similar fashion to LIDAR.

There was a large section of floor space allocated to the many university groups who were displaying the various unmanned technologies they have developed.

Rapid and accurate 3D renderings from imagery processing software products were available from many vendors (e.g. Pix4D)

Autonomous Stuff: One of the more interesting and somewhat novel exhibitors I noticed at the show, Autonomous Stuff was offering solutions for many applications, primarily supplying components commonly used within autonomy systems. They had a fascinating array of perception devices (LIDAR, RADAR) as well as every kind of imaging and mapping sensor available. But they dont stop at providing componentry; they are offering a unique blend of services and training, including installation, integration and training. They told me that they were only a 5-year old firm. I think they were emblematic of the large number of small, young companies who were exhibiting at the show this year.

I attended a session where for the first time, the large research and government entities seemed to finally admit that it is the sensor, not the platform that is critical to the UAS mission. At this session, a colonel from the US Air Force mentioned that LIDAR was being used aboard platforms for tree canopy penetration (FOPEN). LIDAR now appears to be solidly in the vernacular of the military operations folks.

As for the LIDAR and related, I found interesting and extensive exhibits. For example (by no means a complete list):

MDL

Dynascan Their systems are being used not only for mapping, but can be mounted on ground vehicles trying to navigate around objects and rough terrain.

Optech

Now part of Teledyne and clearly re-branded, Optech had the new compact Orion sensor on display. It was apparent that Teledyne offers a broad set of unmanned sensor and vehicle options. According to Barry Cross (US Regional Sales Manager for Teledyne Defense & Security), UAV solutions are already operating and available from them.

Riegl

Unfortunately, I was unable to get an opportunity for a sit-down interview with Jim Van Rens, RieglUSA, as he seemed to always have visitors in his booth. But clearly they are already in the unmanned arena.

Laser Technology Inc.

Known for their speed enforcement and forestry applications, LTI had a number of distance-measuring-solutions available.

ASC

Tom Laux presented an interesting talk on the new Tiger Cub 3D product. It looks like some real advancements are taking place in the realm of flash-lidar.

Neptec

The folks from Neptec had their Opal 360 system on display and operating. While space-rated and large and rugged for mining environments, they stated that a miniaturized version was in the works for other applications including some unmanned.

About the Author

Bill Gutelius

Bill Gutelius is the President and co-founder of Active Imaging Systems (AIS). In 2007 he formed AIS where he consults for commercial and government clients on active and passive imaging technologies and their applications. Previously, he spent more than ten years at Optech Incorporated where he enjoyed being actively involved in the emergence and development of world-class commercial LIDAR remote sensing tools now commonly deployed throughout industry and government.

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