AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2015 – Atlanta, Georgia

I am writing today from Centennial Park in Atlanta, Georgia.  I left home at 3:00 am this morning in order to get to Atlanta for AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference so it has been a long but exciting day.
Taking off from JFK - beautiful day to fly!
Taking off from JFK – beautiful day to fly!
Landing in Atlanta. Note the two other aircraft in the distance off the wing.
I started the morning at Unmanned Systems 2015 by visiting the booths and meeting representatives from a number of companies, both small and large. The convention is quite large so visiting every booth (much less writing about each one) is virtually impossible, but I’m meeting a good cross-section of the industry.  However, I’ll start with the companies that reached out to schedule time to meet.
I was excited to meet with CyPhy Works, which made a big announcement yesterday.   .  CyPhy introduced the LVL 1 Drone, which is geared toward the average consumer and uses innovate technology.  To that end, I met with its founder, Helen Greiner, and Senior Controls Engineer, Dr. Kenneth Sebesta.  Ms. Greiner is famous for her work at iRobot and has moved into the aerial arena with CyPhy Works.
What distinguishes the LVL 1?  The precise twist angle of the arms, an exact amount of dihedral, and lots of advanced math.  This allows it to fly level without needing to tilt to fly, thereby removing the need for an expensive and prone-to-damage gimbal.  Furthermore, the software allows one to control the LVL 1 with a phone using the natural workflow of a cell phone.  One can also share images in real time, creating what CyPhy describes as a “flying camera” rather than an aircraft with a camera attached.
Dr. Sebesta and I also briefly discussed swarming capabilities and Sense-and-Avoid.  You’ll note that the highest level of kickstarting provides the investor with a “swarm.”  CyPhy is focussed on the hardware, but believes that you need good bees to swarm together effectively.  He did note that there is research around their home in Boston relating to bats swarming together.  I also recently wrote about research into bees.
The company launched the LVL 1 with a Kickstarter campaign after raising significant capital through tradition markets.  They are looking forward to using this method to build a community that can provide input into design decisions.  Within 24 hours they are well over 50% toward their goal of $250,000.  Dr. Sebesta was energetic and I enjoyed his technical insight.  Ms. Greiner has successfully launched other programs through both iRobot and now CyPhy, and LVL 1 looks to be in the same category.
The LVL 1 and LVL 1 Diablo (guess which is which!)

I then met with Jonathan Rubin of the Westbury Group.  He is an investment banker in Westport, Connecticut.  It’s a small world when you meet someone almost 1000 miles from home that lives one town away!  He is reaching out to companies involved with unmanned systems to gain early entry into a promising M&A market.  We discussed the opportunities available, the maturity of companies in the field, and the legal obstacles to transactions.  Not surprisingly, export issues was one that came up.

He ran a “Shark Tank” session here at the conference, which unfortunately I had to miss.  However, his debrief was illuminating.  He wants a pitch to be about 65% technical and 35% business.  He heard some entrepreneurs that had great technical presentations but lacked a coherent business plan, and vice versa.  That is a good tip to those looking for outside investment.  And the money is out there.  I’m meeting with 3DR tomorrow and casually ran across the CEO of Airware, both big players in the American UAS market.

Next I met with Steven Justice, Director of the Georgia Center for Innovation for Aerospace.  I was pleased to meet him and learn about his organization because they are doing exactly what needs to be done for unmanned aerial systems.  The Center is fully supported by the state and works to grow the aerospace industry in Georgia.  They saw the UAS field’s potential and developed a framework for growth in 2009.

The Center works to reach out to the public through the media and to educate policymakers.  They also have enjoyed the FAA’s partnership over the years.  The Center also wants to be a one-stop shop for aerospace questions in the state and noted that Atlanta is a hotbed for aviation law and insurance.

He noted that traditional rivals University of Georgia and Georgia Tech have partnered with the state’s aviation college, Middle Georgia State College, to image cotton and peanut fields.  These test fields are compared to the images from UAS, and they have found that the product is quite reliable.  Peanuts are a $4 billion industry in Georgia, so Mr. Justice noted that even a 1% increase would be significant.  He wants to use UAS to realize both primary (a company which builds drones) and secondary benefits (such as through peanut farming).

Returning to Mr. Justice, he explained that Georgia’s Aerospace Industry is split almost equally into thirds: aerospace manufacturing, air transport (think Delta Airlines), and MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul).  He finds this a healthy balance that allows for a fluid workforce.  Finally, he mentioned that the Center is working on using alternative energies, a topic which I have discussed in depth.  While he doesn’t expect a 767 to fly on batteries anytime soon, he wouldn’t be surprised to see unmanned alternative fuel technology move into small 1-2 person aircraft in our lifetimes.

I then watched a seminar given by Jonathan Rupprecht, an pilot and attorney based in West Palm Beach, Florida.  It was a pleasure listening to him describe the regulatory requirements for UAS flight to the audience.


Finally, I met a group of “drone attorneys” from around the world.  Diana Cooper from Ottawa (Canada), Peter Lee from Cambridge (U.K.), and Brendan Schulman from New York.

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Brendan and I are enjoying the “Into the Clouds” signature cocktail. From the best I could tell, the ingredients were sugar, blue food coloring, alcohol, and water (in that order).

It was a pleasure meeting the group and I look forward to seeing them again.  Brendan is not only a drone lawyer, but a UAS (formerly known as “RC plane”) pilot for over 20 years.  We made our way over to senseFly’s flight cage on the expo floor.  They are owned by Parrot and based in Switzerland. They are well-knwon for the eBee, but today’s star was the eXom.  This highly versatile 2 kg UAS is designed for inspection and mapping and is highly capable.  The specs are available on their website.  Brendan was given the opportunity to show off his skills!

Brendan flying the eXom.
The eBee with the eXom in the background
Diana flying the eXom

I won’t take NBC’s story by posting my video of their video, but they came and took a clip of the eXom for the Today Show tomorrow morning.  My laptop battery almost out and it has been a long travel/conference day, so that is all for now.  I look forward to writing more tomorrow.

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