The week before last, I attended the second annual Interdrone conference at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. Overall, it was a great experience and I met a lot of cool people in the industry. It's only in its second year, but Interdrone seems to be quickly establishing itself as the go-to UAS/UAV conference for commercial users and had people from 54 countries and all 50 states attend this year.
This is going to be a pretty long post, so if you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’d sum things up by saying that both the expo hall and especially the educational sessions were extremely valuable and were well worth the price of a full conference pass ($645US) for anyone thinking of using or those who are already using unmanned aerial systems for commercial or other non-hobby/non-sport purposes (aerial photography services, agricultural services, humanitarian purposes, etc.). For that crowd, Interdrone is an absolute must attend event and there was a ton of valuable information shared as well as a vast array of products on display.
When it comes to the hobby and racing markets, I felt that they weren’t really represented in the learning sessions, although a lot of what was learned could certainly be applied by hobbyists. This makes perfect sense though, since only the most serious hobbyists are going to shell out $600+ to attend a conference. With that said - the hobbyist in me felt that the expo hall was certainly well worth the $75 price tag (or even lower for early bird registration). While there wasn’t a lot in the way of racing or strictly hobby focused booths and products, there was quite a bit of what one vendor referred to as “pro-sumer” marketed products being represented - DJI, Yuneec, 3DR, etc.. Also, early bird expo hall registrations actually got you into the “drone film festival”, which was made for a nice start to an evening in Vegas.
This video seemed to be the crowd favorite based on the round of applause it got. It was my favorite as well, but there were also a lot of other amazing videos shot with multirotors:
Overall - I’d say that if you’re a commercial user, you can’t go wrong with a full conference pass. If you’re just a hobbyist, it’s certainly worth picking up an early bird registration on an expo pass and planning a Vegas trip around the conference. Either way, you probably won't be disappointed.
You should definitely sign up for updates if you’re interested in attending next year:
First of all, if you’re into getting your experience for free, some of the keynotes are actually up at http://interdrone.com. Also, I was surprised to learn this but I went with someone who just had the expo hall pass and they received an email from the conference with a link to download the slides from the classroom sessions. I don’t know if this was only supposed to go to full conference pass holders, but either way:
There is some really good information there! Attending the classroom sessions in person allowed for some additional dialogue and a little time for questions, but a some of the presenters had very detailed slides that are pretty worthwhile on their own.
Again - if you’re strictly a hobbyist, the expo hall was full of amazing technology and the people behind it. This included everything from fixed wing UAVs to multirotors in every size from Hubsan toy copters all the way up to some crazy looking custom application rigs from ProDrone. This thing is a "surface clinging drone" used for inspection:
They also had this crazy looking thing that uses its claws to perch on railings and whatnot:
Aside from the extreme stuff, there's no surprise that the "pro-sumer" market was very well represented. All the major players were there, from 3DR, Yuneec, DJI, as well as some lesser known players. This Autel Robotics X-Star Premium seems like a great deal at $899 and it comes with a hard case. Technology wise, it's on par with all of the new stuff out there - gimbal stabilized 4k camera, GPS, beginning flying modes, FPV to a tablet, 25 minute flight time, and even "follow". I can't vouch for how well it works since the extent of any demo at the show was pretty much a hover inside of a netted cage - but it's definitely worth adding to your comparison list if you're in the market for a polished RTF rig in that price range.
Aside from these guys and other major players, there were a few "follow me" copters on display that I hadn't seen before. Another interesting thing that stood out were the number of bigger name companies who re-launched failed "personal theater experience goggles/glasses" as FPV goggles because they realized that they were in demand. There were also at least three or four different booths showing off augmented reality "smart glasses" that were very similar to google glass in that you can see perfectly everything that's in front of you, but if you focus in a certain area, you could see your FPV video through the glasses. When I inquired, it seemed that these were all aimed at getting around the line of site issue, while allowing a pilot to utilize FPV. These were also mostly re-marketed products from big names like Epson and Brother.
When it came to these glasses and a lot of the other cool stuff at the expo, however, they were super compatible with Phantoms, but other setups "may work with some tweaks, but no guarantees". With that said, there were lots of backpacks, cases, lenses, etc. that were almost always purpose built for DJI stuff and sometimes some of the closest competitors.
There were a lot of booths I didn't get to spend a lot of time at and/or ones that were more on the boring side, but there were several law firms and insurance agencies, plenty of thermal and other imaging products, and lots of huge purpose built fixed wing and multirotor UAS's designed for all sorts of different applications. There was even a company representing an Exchange Traded Fund based on "the drone economy".
As far as swag goes, I picked up a couple of t-shirts that I will probably give away on the forum once I finally unpack! There were also the other basic conference stuff - pens, notepads, business card holders that tape to the back of your phone... you know, that sort of stuff.
Having a full conference pass allowed unlimited access to all of the classroom sessions in addition to the expo hall and all of the keynotes. There were classes on everything from first build / 101 type sessions all the way to using "drones" to monitor safari parks for poachers. I attended quite a few classes and each one was very good. The only complaint I'd have is that for a lot of time slots, it was very hard to decide on which session to attend because there were so many interesting topics.
You can go through the slides (link posted above) to get an idea for the sessions and the amount of information shared. I tried to attend a broad variety of sessions to get a good idea of what the conference had to offer, and I can say that none of the presenters disappointed me. I arrived on the second day of the conference, so I started off attending a session by Alex from Urban Drones about how to create a successful kickstarter campaign for your "drone" business. This session was extremely informative and useful beyond the kickstarter platform and could be applied to any type of product. So while it was drone focused, I actually got some additional value out of it just from a behavioral economics point of view.
I also attended "Revolutionized Precision Farm Management: UAV Multispectral Crop Management and Disease Detection" put on by Dr. Charles Malveaux. This guy is brilliant and if you're looking into any kind of UAS based farm management (to do as a service, or for your own land), you should check out the slides from this session and look more into his work.
Another topic that had me really interested was the law related sessions. I didn't realize how many firms are getting into unmanned systems law and focusing on (and marketing) "drone" law services. I went to a couple of different legal sessions and not only were they extremely informative, the presenters stayed behind and answered inquiries from long lines of people who had questions about their "drone" business. Just this legal advice alone (which they will tell you is not legal advice since you're not paying them), is worth a good chunk of the full conference pass price! And again - the quality of the presenters was outstanding. One of the legal sessions went into where state and local laws are going and the breakdown in responsibility between the FAA and state and local laws. This was put on by two Air Force Academy grads, who both went to Stanford - and then one became an attorney and the other an F-15 pilot. They also are UAS enthusiasts.
I hit up some other sessions as well and took 26 pages of notes. I will review them here soon and I'll post about the interesting stuff.
All in all, it was a great experience and I'm looking forward to going back next year. The only complaint I really have is that a couple of years ago, "drone" was a bad word and I still don't feel right calling a multirotor or quadcopter or UAV or UAS - a "drone". But at this conference, I heard the word "drone" about 10,000 times! I was pretty relieved though when one of the attorney's presenting in one of the legal sessions kindly asked the audience to please stop calling it a drone or even a UAV and that if they want to be taken seriously (for commercial purposes), they need to call it a UAS (unmanned aerial system) because that is how the FAA defines it. I like that - UAS. But at this point, I feel like it's okay for everyone to give in to just calling things drones because that's really where we are right now and I don't think it scares everyone so much any more. I even found myself saying it a couple of times during the trip - although I kind of cringed when I did.
Anyway - if anyone got this far, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions about the conference or anything else.