From September 1-2, drone vendors and aficionados descended upon the Suntec City Conference Center like a plague of lithium polymer—powered locusts, all eager to get a glimpse of what’s new in the world of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
As expected, vendors came from all corners of the globe came to show off their wares, with the focus being largely centered on larger payload capabilities, longer flight times and various sensor payloads.
Impressions from the Commercial UAV Show
The Alturia Zenith octacopter from Aerialtronics. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Upon entering the thankfully air-conditioned exhibition centre, I was immediately confronted with a display featuring some pretty hefty looking octacopters, with a variety of probes attached to their carbon-fiber frames.
This first stand belonged to Aerialtronics, a Netherlands-based company specializing in remote sensing. Like many companies here, Aerialtronics specialize in platforms designed for precision agriculture and general inspection work. Indeed, one of the attached probes was a gas-sniffer for detecting the presence of gas leaks in gas pipelines.
Other sensor packages include DLSR, thermal imaging, UV and HD live video. The Zenith boasted a 35 minute flight time and 2.9kg payload capacity, allowing detailed mapping over a wider range.
The Parrot Sequoia camera. (Image courtesy of SenseFly.)
Of the various exhibitors I saw, Parrot was the most well-known, with a display stand dedicated to both the Parrot brand and also the offshoot company SenseFly
. If Parrot is the Honda of commercial drones, then SenseFly is the Acura.
The latter company is definitely trying to beat a new path to more advanced applications, such as agriculture and property mapping, especially compared to the more budget-friendly consumer drones that are sold by its parent company.
The eBee SQW agricultural drone. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Covering the agricultural side of things was the eBee SQW fixed-wing drone, which is based around Parrot’s proprietary Sequoia multispectral camera.
Of all of the UAS on show, it was the Ukrainian-built Skyeton UAV ACS-3 that caught my eye the most, largely due to its sleek airframe and golden age of aviation—inspired aesthetics.
Skyeton has a fairly long history in designing manned aircraft, so it is no surprise that the company’s drones have a more refined aesthetic to them. The company has recently turned to drone manufacturing, with a focus on providing airframes and avionics systems to third-party agencies that wish to get their own sensor packages airborne.
Skyeton’s own ACS-3 boasts a flight radius of 120km via radio and an extended range of 1000km with its own autopilot mode. That translates to a maximum flight time of 15 hours, depending on the payload.
The Skyeton UAV ACS-3, looking like a prop from The Rocketeer. (Image courtesy of the author.)
Despite the sturdy appearance and size of the drone (2.90m wingspan / 1.83m length) it weighs in at a lean 21kg. In fact, most of the drones on display at the show were under 22kg. I was informed by the manufacturers present that there is a good reason for this: if the system goes over 22kg, then it is classed as a small aircraft rather than a commercial drone, and that classification becomes a headache in terms of paperwork and export/import licenses.
Keynotes at the Commercial UAV Show
The conference featured a number of speakers from industry and academia and I was able to attend keynote sessions in the “drones for good” portion of the event.
The first keynote by associate professor Lian Pin Koh of The University of Adelaide focused on nature conservation from the air.
Drones are rapidly becoming cheap alternatives for roles that have been traditionally filled by satellites. The growth of data and sensor fusion technologies are allowing researchers to use drones to
monitor wildlife behaviors, prevent poaching, monitor environmental changes over time and even track the effects of localized conflicts.
The second keynote, by Jessie Mooberry, Vice Director of Uplift, was centered on use of UAVs for delivering humanitarian aid to hard-to-reach populations. This aid can come in many forms, according to Mooberry. Drones can provide situational awareness via 3D mapping, deliver medicine and educational packages or even food and urgent communications to areas ranging from geographically hard-to-reach locations to refugee camps. In particular, Uplift has successfully tested a prototype fixed wing drone for delivering aid packages to besieged cities in Syria over a range of 50 km.
All in all, the conference and expo has shown that drone manufacturers are indeed using their expertise for good, which is a nice balance to the stories we see of drones flying into airport flight paths or drone strikes. Indeed, this conference was mercifully free of the latter type of story.
The Commercial UAV Show will be continuing its tour and will come to the London ExCel center on October 19th and 20th 2016. You can get your free expo passes at this link.