On the first day of Commercial UAV Expo Europe, we attended an eye-opener session about the newest technologies on the horizon for our industry. Chaired by Jesse Kallman of Airbus Aerial, the four panelists offered the packed auditorium in Amsterdam a variety of insights and perspectives around the future of drone technology, data gathering and data processing, security and many other topics.

First, we heard from James Harrison from Sky-Futures in the UK, who dove directly into the issue of a growing industry capturing more data than is possible to analyze in a lifetime. James’ main takeaway was that rationalization of the data gathering process and comprehensive data storage management are key factors to success in the service sector.

Christian Janke from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Germany gave us a rare inside view into the challenges that education institutions face when training young people on technologies that are changing every day and sometimes every hour. The ability to inspire young people to enter the field and become the voices of the future is his driving force.

Christoph Strecha from Pix4D in Switzerland focused on the necessity to prioritize the final product, as opposed to focusing on the means to acquire the data. Christoph emphasized that customers are only interested in the final piece of information that will allow them to make business decisions and positively impact the bottom line. According to him, it’s irrelevant if we collect that raw data with a sophisticated drone or with a sensor hanging from a crane because the focus should always be the end product and the benefit to the end user. He is a strong advocate for lightweight UAVs as means to an end, and not the other way around.

Christoph emphasized that the drone industry should follow in the footsteps of larger markets such as autonomous cars and mobile phone industries, arguing that their respective budgets and access to resources stood orders of magnitude above that of the drone industry as a whole.

Finally, Baptiste Tripard from Intel gave the audience a brief insight into the challenges of creating a drone program in a large organization such as Intel. He also shared the joys of being able to develop and deploy amazing feats of technology such as flying a swarm of drones which contains an excess of a thousand autonomous units flying in unison and in perfect coordination. Baptiste is working on building autonomous platforms with strong flight management systems and a seamless communication with UTMs.

After the initial remarks by each panelist, Jesse steered the conversation towards new developments that might have an impact in 2018 and beyond and also what new technologies had the greatest prospect of doing so in the short term.

Christoph was of the opinion that there’s too much hype around AI and machine learning, and even though they will be a key component in the future, these developments are still too far away to be a real influencer in the short term.

James made a strong case that there was a big difference between on board and off board data analysis and gave precise examples of when each of the two gathering methods applies and why.

Baptiste intervened to add that having a comprehensive maintenance program with an emphasis on preventive actions and predictive failure algorithms was the key to a successful implementation of any drone program.

When it was time for the Q&A, an attendee asked the panelists if there were any new developments in terms of flight autonomy. Christoph took the microphone and explained the need for better regulation in order to allow flights BVLOS and argued that all the technology to make this happen was already here.

Someone in the audience then followed up by inquiring about the need for 5G to make things happen faster and the panelists agreed that 5G might improve communication speeds, but that the current telecom infrastructure was adequate for most jobs in rural areas and perfectly acceptable in urban environments.

James made the final comment of the session as he told the audience that whatever the telecommunication companies deploy in the future, it needs to be continuous and reliable to be useful to the drone industry.