The fourth and final day of AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL event was shorter than the rest, but after taking a look at how things are progressing in precision agriculture, looking at UAVs as disruptive technology and getting some extremely relevant updates from the FAA, it almost felt like anything more would be overkill. As attendees quickly found out though, there was still plenty to explore.

Day 4 saw the liveliest discussion on the main stage of the entire event, featured one of the best panel sessions and still made time for individuals to discuss details around how professionals can transition into the commercial market and how things currently look for the future of BVLOS operations.

Stay tuned for a wrap-up about the entire event that will highlight the biggest stories and developments.


Even though huge names like John Chambers and Michael Huerta had already graced the main stage of XPONENTIAL, in some ways the organizers saved the best for last. Day 4 featured a discussion between Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Dr. John Cavolowsky from NASA, Frank Kelly from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Marke “Hoot” Gibson from the FAA. AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynn moderated the discussion that focused on how the industry is going to move forward logistically and legally. Being able to create a UTM (UAS traffic management) system is certainly part of that logistical question, and it was something Cavolowsky mentioned, but the bulk of the discussion centered on how Congress and the FAA have and are going to influence regulation.

It’s often easy to imagine that legislators are ignorant of the issues that are making the biggest impacts in the real world, but Representative LoBiondo didn’t give that impression in the slightest, and even expressed frustration about the current state of things. He mentioned the emergency situations he’s had to deal with and said that he knew drones could have provided real benefits to them. He stressed that the United States has a competitive advantage in many different respects, and doesn’t want to see the country lose that to other nations. He stressed that the FAA is in a better position than ever in part due to their hiring of Gibson, which was hailed as a sea-change in terms of pursuing initiatives and a path that made sense. Gibson made sure to stress that any success the industry has and will see will be due to collaboration.

“We’re only going to get there together,” Gibson said. After hearing how such things are a priority for the people at the highest levels in these institutions, advocates should be more encouraged than ever about their desire and ability to do so. DSC08621

Drones in Energy, Oil, Gas and Utilities was among the last sessions of the event, but once again, it felt like those who stayed for it were able to experience something that was especially poignant. Moderated by Dyan Gibbens, the panel featured Chris Hickling, David Philips, Jonathan McMillen, Tero Heinonen and Zac Penix. Each of them detailed their experiences as they related to the successes and challenges they’ve encountered in their work.

The very engaged audience wanted to knows specific details about issues like BVLOS operations, the advantages of starting a drone program in-house versus hiring a 3rd party vendor, how new innovation can be brought into the industry plus plenty more, and the panelists worked to address these issues as they spoke. Much of the info they laid out stemmed from a need for organization to identify what they want to do before they start talking about the tools. This is something that is often skipped over when people on both sides of the conversation only focus on the potential of what a UAV can do.

Also, the importance of safety was something that was brought up over and over by almost every panelist. Penix mentioned he almost got kicked off a job because he didn’t use a handrail, which just goes to show how seriously they take the subject. Of course, just as quickly it was pointed out that drones can keep people out of dangerous situations, making conversations around the impact to safety even more important.

Challenges around BVLOS operations were at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and many feel having that ability will be the only thing that makes how these tools are being used scalable. They also mentioned that for all the flak the FAA gets, one only has to look to the laws that are or aren’t on the books in other countries to truly appreciate what the FAA has done and what they’re looking to do. Those regulations are allowing companies to see the technology as a logical extension of the more intelligent tools they’ve been creating and utilizing for the past decade, and widespread adoption along with advances in automation will continue to push this concept.


Over at the intimate setting of the Innovation Hub, Ron Stearns laid out how he’s assessed the industry during Unmanned Aerial Systems: Transitions, Evolutions and Opportunity Analysis. He’s just transitioned to the commercial market but had been seeing and hearing what was in store for it for many years. He hailed the FAA’s move to risk-based certification as a particularly positive development, and focused on how, where, when and why professionals will be able to take advantage of the emergence of expanded services. His presentation showcased where professionals can find opportunities in the industry, even if they aren’t overly familiar with it.

Also at the Innovation Hub, Kevin Nasman presented Enabling BVLOS Today, which focused on the work that’s being done to enable BVLOS operations. His presentation was extremely concise, and he mentioned one of the biggest issues are the “troublemakers”, which is anyone who knowing or unknowingly does not comply with rules to keep everyone safe. The benefit of a UTM is that it will automatically deal with such people, since the system will alert everyone who needs to know about anyone who isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Ultimately though, there aren’t any easy answers around the development of this type of system, which is why so much more research is being done.


Stay tuned for an all-encompassing look at XPONENTIAL 2016, which will cover what happened on the show floor to the presentation rooms to what the audience was saying.