AUVSI Xponential’s Kick Off Keynotes

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One of the highlights of AUVSI’s Xponential each year is getting to see major thought leaders in the industry.  This morning’s keynotes were no different: with the tagline “The Power of Progress.”

Hosted by Airbus’ Travis Mason and introduced by AUVSI President Brian Wynne, the morning was about looking ahead.  The tone was optimistic, with Wynne pointing out that an AUVSI survey indicated that more than 90% of industry stakeholders expect to grow and do better in the next year.  (The primary concern voiced was public acceptance – no surprise there.)

The Magic of Robotics

Journalist, author and humorist Dan Lyons took the stage with a great quote for the drone industry in the background: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishale from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke.  Lyons presented the view of the drone industry from the outside – walking the show floor filled with drone technology is like walking through a science fiction movie made real.  Lyons covers Silicon Valley – and he’s a well-known critic of hyped up new apps that don’t have real revenue streams.  When it comes to drones, however, Lyons sees a real future.    “A whole industry that didn’t even exist 10 years ago… is becoming a multi-billion dollar industry…. and they keep inventing new ways to use them,” says Lyons.

What Lyons likes to explore is the idea of how robots and humans will intersect at the work place – and he points out that it’s up to the industry to acknowledge and deal with the natural fear that most of the public has about automation.  With humor and concrete examples, Lyons makes the case for learning to work with intelligent machines, while valuing the human element.

The Tipping Point in the Drone Industry

PrecisionHawk’s Michael Chasen and Florida Power and Light’s Eric Schwartz took the stage together, as the two companies are business partners.  Chasen says the industry is now “poised for exponential growth,” and believes that he knows what the tipping point for drones will be: Artificial Intelligence.   (Chasen also mentions Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) as a game changer.)

Although PrecisionHawk is known as a drone company, Chasen says that the company is focused on AI and machine learning to fundamentally change the way companies do business.

The Future is Drones and AI

Schwartz says that his job at Florida Power and Light is to look forward  – 5, 10, or 15 years out in to the future.  He explains that the 3,000 employees who are responsible for keeping the over 75 miles of power lines running do so in a challenging environment.  With the current process manual and human-dependent, the opportunity to improve for both customers and employees is clear.  Schwartz says that with Hurricane Irma came the opportunity to prove the case for BVLOS drone missions – using emergency authorizations, the company was able to quickly respond to the emergency.  It was a game changer – and a mind changer – for both employees and customers.

In 2019 the company plans to fly over 10,000 miles, utilizing AI and machine learning to process data.   Schwartz says that the true value of drones partnered with AI is not to identify the problems of today – but to identify the potential problems of the future.  That move from predictive to reactive maintenance, Schwartz points out, is the ultimate goal of any company: not to fix outages but to prevent them from happening entirely.

Stay tuned for a recap of tomorrow’s keynote: The Power of Execution.


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