A frenetic conference year lost no momentum as LIDAR Magazine attended Commercial UAV Expo Americas 2019, held in the usual Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino at the end of October. This event is a Diversified Communications (DivCom) production and we witnessed the engine of the Maine-based company humming on all cylinders. The attendance broke records and exhibitors flocked to the DivCom booth to book space for next year as well as the Geo Week event, incorporating ILMF and the ASPRS annual conference, in Washington, DC in March 2020.
Many of us began our week with the outdoor demos on Monday morning. We were bussed to a site southeast of Las Vegas, with superb views of city, mountains and desert, but the dominant topic of conversation was the cold! The temperature was below 10°C (50°C) and the metal bleachers provided by DivCom occasioned numerous polar posteriors. It was windy too, which made it hard for the Drone Rescue Systems people to catch a rapidly but obliquely descending UAV after its parachute successfully deployed! This was part of the LiDAR USA demo, which also included the Emesent Hovermap system. There were eight other demos, showing a variety of aircraft and software (yes, there was a big, bright screen on site), and an emergency response situation with police cruiser, school bus emitting smoke while a suspected miscreant is observed through the window by a hovering UAV. After the invigorating morning, we settled down for the product previews in the afternoon, 32 15-minute presentations in two rooms. These were less of an endurance test than last year, perhaps because the presenters are handling the format better and the products and services they describe are so enthralling.
The statistics underline the success of the event (see chart). In 2017, Diversified Communications acquired Drone World Expo and incorporated it into the 2018 Commercial UAV Expo Americas. The growth from 2018 to 2019, however, has been the most dramatic in the five-year history of the event. In her words of welcome at the opening session, Lisa Murray, DivCom group director, mentioned that the 3044 attendees hailed from 55 countries and that 110 of the 240 exhibitors were new to the event, a sure sign of breathtaking progress in the field. The international component was stimulating – readers interested in meeting UAV folk from round the world may also like to consider the sister event, Commercial UAV Expo Europe, to be held in Amsterdam in December 2020.
The opening keynotes were James Bridenstine, NASA administrator, and Bala Ganesh, UPS’s VP for Advanced Technology. Bridenstine drew heavily on his USAF experience and introduced the topic of UAV traffic management (UTM), which was prevalent throughout the conference. Ganesh was superb and spoke professionally about UPS’s successes, including deliveries within well-defined spaces, e.g. a hospital campus, and challenges. Thereafter followed a plethora of panel discussions, both plenary and parallel, which are at the heart of the Commercial UAV Expo formula. There were too many topics to list here, but both applications and the regulatory environment were well covered. Naturally, these varied in quality and relevance, but for attendees less enthusiastic about the panel format, the vibrant exhibition was always a major attraction, only a step away. It was probably the best UAV exhibition that LIDAR Magazine had seen at a geospatial show outside Intergeo.
We were sorely pressed by the sheer number of items on the program. In addition to panel discussions and exhibition, there were also Women in Drones events, a two-day Drone Responders Public Safety Summit, numerous workshops, ASPRS sessions, a night-time outdoor demo, presentations in the exhibition hall theater, receptions, and the increasingly popular Pitch the Press event, where exhibitors have two minutes to present and a minute of questions from hacks like us, then three winners are chosen. Lunches and breaks were in the exhibition hall – an absolutely essential feature exhibitors are to be furnished with lively traffic throughout the day.
Most of those who participated in Commercial UAV Expo Americas 2019, therefore, will be keen to repeat the experience. Readers who missed it are recommended to join them. The next iteration, at the same venue, is on 15-17 September 2020. Mark your calendar!