You would expect the world’s largest event for uncrewed and autonomous systems to blow your mind. And you would be right. AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2022 roared back from a COVID-depressed experience in 2021. This year’s convention ran from April 25-28 in Orlando and rocked it on every metric. Wow was on full display for high-tech products that included the latest innovations in autonomous aircraft, automobiles, maritime vehicles and even robotic dogs. The latter both fascinated and frightened me.
Full confession. I’ve had colleagues attend XPONENTIAL, but this was my first show. When I arrived at the Orange County Convention Center on opening day, I walked every aisle of the floor and the outdoor demo space without stopping to talk to anyone. (That’s saying something for me.) I wanted to take it all in. My immersive exploration took several hours, and my immediate takeaway was that while this is a casual, jeans and tennis shoes type of show, this is serious stuff. In addition to business folks and policymakers, I saw many members of our Armed Forces. Fatigues were as pervasive as T-shirts.
Telling the UAS Story
There were some amazing booths with great video displays and supersized graphics, but most were small and focused on the products themselves. You didn’t see much print collateral. Instead QR codes were on everything and, with a quick scan of your phone, let you quickly sign up for a demo or download a product sheet. The show billed itself as the place where autonomy meets society, and that change-the-world vibe permeated the convention hall. Everyone seemed to be talking about possibilities and opportunities. Keynote presentations and fireside chats banged the innovation drum and quickened our heart rates. There was a sense of a new day, not just coming, but here. Where we can be better connected, more strategic and secure – if we play our cards right. Advanced technologies can enhance our lives like nothing else.
A UAS Case in Point
Our client, Vantis, put its value proposition to the test just as the show was about to take place. Western North Dakota had received some four feet of snow on top of another 4-6 feet already on the ground. Blizzard conditions with ice as well as heavy snow prompted Gov. Doug Burgum to call a state of emergency and turn to uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) to help recovery efforts and restore disrupted utility services.
With approvals and waivers from the FAA, UAS did its job during this recent severe weather – quickly getting to rural areas, assessing damage and helping prioritize life-saving resources needed for power utility repairs and recovery. UAS overcame the difficult, if not impossible, travel needed to do the job. It saved time, money and, potentially, lives.
The severe weather essentially served as a proof of concept for Vantis, North Dakota’s UAS network. The network was designed to enable drones to operate beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS). It came through in the state’s hour of need.
The Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) represents organizations from more than 60 countries. Walking through the hall felt like the United Nations. I heard almost every possible language being spoken. Xponential provides a platform for collaboration, sharing lessons learned and building partnerships. More than 700 manufacturers and service providers were there with hands-on exhibits, interactive demos and perfected pitches.
Colleague Samantha Stinson and I left the show energized and more bullish on the future of UAS than ever. We are not alone.
This column ran in the May 12 issue of BlueSky News.