THE ANNUAL AUVSI EDITION – 2013 EDITION
The Future is bright in the world of UAS. Movement forward continues and industry is ready to produce the necessary technological steps in order to dive head long into the future of civilian, commercial, military, and paramilitary applications for unmanned systems.
How do I know this? Why am I so confident? Well, this past week I spent time amongst some of the brightest and most technologically savy minds in the United States as it comes to unmanned aircraft – listening to panels and presentations at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, DC. I spent hours at the conference hearing from RTCA President Margaret Jenny, FAA UAS Integration Office Director Jim Williams, Chairman of EUROCAE WG-73, and a myriad of other leaders in the fields of international and domestic regulations, technology manufacturing and development, and business operations.
This event draws all leaders in the field of unmanned systems – not simply those that fly, but submersibles and land based vehicles aswell. iRobot and Boston Dynamics were there, Boeing was there, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, Yamaha, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics were there. Every major player in the fields of military and non-military airframes brought their A-Team out to sling schwag, make deals, and offer insight to the future of their companies and the direction by which the UAS industry is headed.
So, I’ll give a run-down as to the best and brightest, as well as – of course – who had the best hand outs!
The Big Boys Showoff
Well, the big boys of Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Atomics always have amazing, show stopping booths and presenters representing their companies and I have pictures interspersed with X-47 B landings, touch screen tables, and a plethora of concept copters and fixed-wing fantasies to show for it. The wing-shaped fixed wing future plans of Northrop Grumman as well as their Lighter than Air Vehicle demonstrations were very intriguing and I think much of the future shows will highlight the applicability and integration efforts for LtAV moving forward. The cargo capacity, fuel consumption and overall costs of ltAVs make them a very marketable and highly desirable technology in the future places like the Tundra, Deserts, and overseas voyages if we can get the sight of the Hindenburg burning out of our mind’s eye.
Smaller venues that did a tremendous job were AGI (AGI.COM) and ISR Group that offered simulator “training” right there on the show floor. I came away with AGI flight software demos for my own use and plan to experiment with their quadcopter flight prep planning for future training.
Test Centers on the Floor!
Well, it is pretty clear that the states are competing, not individual companies or cities, for UAS test centers through the FAA application system. States have formed commercial action committees in order to lobby congress, represent their interests within the industry, and develop relationships on all levels in order to push forward, inch by slow inch, their bid to house one of six FAA approved test centers or the one UAS center of excellence as stipulated in the FAA Modernization and Re-Authorization Act of 2012. The pictures below simply do not do these booths justice as they were staffed by between 6 and 20 exhibitors all day, each of 4 conference days. The booths themselves offered live video from location, pamphlets of future infrastructure developments, proposed relationship building for all facets of the market, and letters of support from various important people statewide. Some states have banded together to create an even stronger support structure for their bid – Indiana and Ohio plan to share access, and Montana and Canada seem to have a joint bid with the FAA and CAA in order to develop cross-cultural, action planning; a plus they, I’m sure, hope puts them ahead of the game. It’s also easy to see why they are going through the trouble of hiring outside lobbying firms to represent their interests and develop as much momentum for their state(s) as possible. The amount of money that will be infused, most likely permanently, into these areas could very well cure an ailing economy, could revitalize even the likes of Detroit manufacturing, or Daytona production.
Perhaps, however, one of the best and most likely bids that will move forward is for a test center in Nevada, South of Las Vegas, close to the border of California. It seems to me that this area is a perfect location for a test-center and was presented well on the show floor – better than Florida and the others I mentioned though Florida also seems to be a wise choice. No, Nevada has institutional knowledge (military), already has operated UAS in congested airspace (Nellis’ proximity to Las Vegas Airport), deals with restricted airspace allocations and urban airspace corridors very often, and has top secret military bases in the local vicinity. California, sitting right across the border, home to the likes of Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, Raytheon, and Silicon Valley would likely use Nevada as the closest testing point furthering the aerospace support. Lastly, they could use the infusion of Federal and Private money as they are among the hardest hit economically speaking.
Ultimately, my predictions for the 6 FAA authorized test-centers will be the following and for the reasons mentioned below:
1. Alaska – Testing highly volatile environment, land/sea operations, low-impact population
2. Nevada – Arid climate, less volatile environment with traffic corridors heavily used, high-impact population close but not too close, areas for terminal flight exit, institutional knowledge
3. Florida –Technologically rich environment, government regulated areas of access, land/sea operations, East Coast location, Academic support and involvemen
4. North Dakota – Heavily developed UAS industry area, Decades old relationship with Customs & Border Protection, experience working CoA and CAW systems, North-East location
5. New Mexico – Highly developed UAS access points, infrastructure in existence, academic and industry support, no congestion of airspace, terminal system
6. Ohio/Indiana – Joint venture with great support, collaboration between governments to be tested, they need the infrastructure support, middle of the country for access locally.
Finally I turn to the most important aspect of any conference. No, not the speakers though they were great. No, not the discussion or panel topics – if I have to hear more about Sense and Avoid anytime soon I will jab my eyes out with a rusty spoon. No, of course I am talking about the hand outs from the booths that grab the eye, that make me toting a bright orange canvas bag around a 350,00 SQ FT show room worth it.
So, I present to you the best shwag of the show – The AGI STK demo of flight planning software that you can use to plan simulated flights of predator, reaper, and other airframes with. You can analyze their simulated performance, record safety data, and perform meaningful analysis as to expected performance and “real” performance as you could using the real product. For me, this is a huge handout and I look forward to adding STK from AGI to my teaching outline.
Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t include their website in this post as they were so generous with me; so check out their software and I am sure you can rry a demo out as well!