The Commercial UAV Expo 2021 officially began with a welcome from Lee Corkhill. Lee shared the fact that the attendance was around 2,600 with every state and 60 countries represented. The latter is particularly interesting given the Covid situation. While on that note I think it is fair to say that Covid was on everyone’s mind. For the most part everyone was obeying the county ordinance requiring a mask when inside regardless of vaccination status, but there were a few exceptions. There were 130 exhibitors, with 50% attending the conference for the first time. I am not quite sure how to interpret that.
Lisa Ellman opened the keynotes. She started the Commercial Drone Alliance which is an industry org working with government agencies to further the drone industry. Steve Dickson the Administrator of the FAA was up next. He provided a detailed and somewhat encouraging state of the FAA when it comes to drone regs. He referenced the work being done on BVLOS – beyond visual line of sight as one of the FAA top priorities. They have set up a 90 person committee to provide industry perspective. Safety is the number one concern at the FAA. He noted package delivery, inspection and urban mobility as important apps.
The next speaker was the CEO of Zipline, Keller Rinaudo. They are supplying badly needed drugs to the entire country of Rwanda with plans to add Nigeria, Japan and the U.S. in the works. Actually he was quite critical of the FAA noting that they are using the same regulation procedures as were used to certify commercial aircraft like the 747. The pace of government regulation development is far too slow in his opinion which should count as they are flying thousands of missions and serving 25 million people.
It would certainly seem like the UAV industry is in its infancy much like early commercial aviation. Safety of the public is the primary concern as it is with autonomous vehicles, but the bar is very high since these industries are not starting with a clean slate. Any fatality today is unacceptable. Reduction is not enough.
The Commercial UAV Expo session on AL and machine learning offered some hope, but it is far from being ready for prime time.
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