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5 Standouts from InterDrone

September 26, 2016

The second annual International Drone Conference & Exposition (InterDrone) took place Sept. 7-9 in Las Vegas, NV, and hosted more than 3,500 attendees.  The expo hall was abuzz with 155 exhibitors — both industry experts and hobbyists alike walked the hall, which showcased drones, gear, and more.

I spent a good deal of my time in the expo hall, checking out the hot new drones, learning about products, and chatting with exhibitors. While many booths in the expo hall brought something special, these five companies really stood out to me. (Note: I didn’t make it to every single booth. For shame, I know.)

1) Neurala

The Neurala booth featured colored boxes surrounding objects and people on TV screens: sounds like a child’s show huh?  Might not seem like much to some, but it’s actually really impressive tech.

Neurala announced its first on-board deep learning software for drones, called Brains for Bots, at InterDrone. This software development kit allows drone manufacturers to enable drones and apps with autonomous flight, object recognition (that’s the reason for the colored boxes), and visual following and inspection ― all without adding weight, because it’s software!

Brains for Bots allows users to teach a drone to recognize objects or scenes in real-time.  For example, in a demo, a drone learned to recognize a tree. Once the object’s learned, the user can name it and now the drone can then decipher trees from other objects. The objects name tag will appear with the drone’s confidence level that it’s correctly tagged.

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Neurala’s Brains for Bots software allows drones to learn, recognize, and follow objects and people. (Neurala)

One could get lost in the tech and paradigm behind Brains for Bots (myself included), but Neurala’s CEO and Co-founder Massimiliano Versace plainly says deep learning is the “emulation of brain functions in software.” Basically, deep learning allows a drone or robot to learn like you and I, and this idea is what will likely propel drones and other vehicles to become fully autonomous.

“I truly believe that deep learning [and] neural networks are the only viable future for a truly intelligent drone or a truly intelligent automotive vehicle – because it can be trained,” says Versace.

The Teal drone is the first to use Neurala’s Brains for Bots software for deep learning and image recognition. Available for preorder, Teal costs $1,299 and should be shipped out before Christmas. Hey @Teal Drones, can we get one in for review? I really want to test this software out!

2) Skye Intelligence

Skye Intelligence’s new Orbit drone was unveiled, and boy, it’s good looking. This consumer drone is sleek. Its body is a glossy black, with a vibrant blue ring-light on the top and underbelly. Plus, the Orbit turns on by pressing your palm against it ― like magic, one might say.

Its Follow Me mode allows users to focus on getting a great shot, which isn’t necessarily groundbreaking. But, Orbit takes it one step further to ensure accuracy: it comes equipped with a wearable bracelet device (seen at the bottom of the picture below). OK, the bracelet is definitely not the next “it” accessory (I would know, I worked at Anthropologie), but it’s lightweight and it sports that cool blue light, too. Orbit will also hover in a fixed location while simultaneously tracking its subject (Point Lock mode) and follow users as they climb or descend (Climbing mode).

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The Orbit’s tracking bracelet is seen toward the bottom of this picture. You can’t see the bracelet’s face, but it also boasts the vibrant blue light. (Lauren Sigfusson)

One plus for me and other’s who enjoy using social media is that videos and photos taken with its 1080p camera can be directly edited and shared via its app. No wasting time transferring files is a big plus.

David Sliwa, director of sales and marketing for Skye Intelligence, says not only hobbyist consumers can use this drone, but also those looking to film for commercial purposes, like real estate and marketing.

With a flight time of about 28 minutes,  Orbit knocks its current competitor (the Yuneec Breeze) out of the air — the Breeze only has a flight time of up to 12 minutes (although it comes standard with two batteries). The Orbit weighs 2.8 pounds, can travel up to 33 mph, and is available for $799 (iOS only; Android this fall).

This baby is currently in the hands of one of Drone360 ’s trusty reviewers, so keep your eyes out for it in a future Drone360 issue!

3) PowerVision

I went to InterDrone with the intent of finding the mythical PowerEgg, and it didn’t disappoint ― the drone definitely looks like an egg IRL (it also resembles Eva from Wall-E).

PowerVision CEO Wally Zheng says the drone’s ovoid shape was inspired by nature and the story of Leonardo Da Vinci drawing eggs. It comes with a Wiimote-esque controller, which Zheng says allows users to control their drone like a “maestro.”

While I didn’t see it fly, I know I wouldn’t mind taking it out for a spin (strange looks and all). For just $1,288, the egg-drone can be yours, but you’ll have to wait a little bit ― it begins shipping in October.

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Wally Zheng, CEO and co-founder of PowerVision, holds the PowerEgg. (Lauren Sigfusson)

The China-based UAV manufacturer was showing off not only its glorious white egg, but also the more traditionally shaped PowerEye. This commercial-grade drone has a 29.5-minute flight time and boasts integrated dual cameras. PowerEye will be available in late 2016, and no price has been released.

Zheng says he cares about design, usability, portability, and resolving “a pain point for users.” He hopes both the PowerEgg and PowerEye become useful tools.

4) Insitu

I’ve never smiled so much at empty air than when testing Insitu‘s Inexa Control ground control station and Microsoft’s HoloLens. But it’s not meant for just fun and games.

Greer Carper, product manager for Insitu’s Inexa, demonstrated the technology to Drone360 Editor Tim Kidwell and I. Seeing the holographic image of a real-world wildfire scenario that was projected before our eyes was a bit strange, but after some careful guidance by Carper we quickly adjusted.

We learned how to adjust a UAV’s trajectory with the pinch of our fingers and even adjust its elevation. We could see the location of UAVs, manned aircraft, and firefighters. What’s really great about this tech is that both Tim and I could see the same 3D map and interact with it to make real-time decisions. Imagine how this could help drone pilots and other decision makers during disasters and other pressing scenarios.

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Drone360 Editor Tim Kidwell (far left) and Drone360 Associate Editor Lauren Sigfusson (far right) receive a HoloLens/Inexa Control demo from Insitu’s Greer Carper. (Jennifer Beloy/Insitu)

“In the future, Inexa Control will be able to control an entire fleet of unmanned systems, to perform many missions that could be difficult, if not impossible, for a traditional operator to accomplish,” Carper said in a video about this tech.

The system improves situational awareness, so more informed decisions can be made when time is of the essence. It also allows pilots to stay compliant with FAA regulations. The company hopes Inexa will be used for a variety of applications, from fighting fires to inspections.

Sadly this is not yet available, as it is currently in the prototype stage. With so many vast uses (and its FAA compliance), hopefully it will hit the market sooner rather than later.

5) Intel

Last, but definitely not least: Intel.  This company continues to be a large force in the drone world and was a Platinum sponsor of InterDrone. I have to admit, I was a little sad Intel didn’t put on another Drone100 drone light show — but I wasn’t let down for long.

“We hope to get more than 100 drones in the air,” says Anil Nanduri, vice president of the New Technology Group at Intel. This made my heart sing. More dancing drone fleets in the future – who knows, maybe even a thousand! A girl can dream.

But Intel isn’t stopping at drone light shows and swarms. In a keynote speech, Nanduri mentioned that Intel is working on enabling autonomous and beyond visual line-of-sight drone flights. He also says that we can expect more drone news from the company in the future. I’m all ears.

Intel is also known for its RealSense technology in Yuneec’s Typhoon H; however it’s now making its very own drone ― the Intel Aero ready-to-fly quad, which was released a few weeks earlier. This fully assembled drone is geared toward developers, researchers, and enthusiasts. Aero will be available toward the end of the year, but you can sign up for more info on it here.

Ascending Technologyies CEO Jan Stumpf demonstrates the agility of the Falcon 8. (Tim Kidwell)

Ascending Technologies CEO Jan Stumpf demonstrates the agility of the Falcon 8 inside the netted “Yes Fly Zone”. (Tim Kidwell)

When I made my way to the “Yes Fly Zone” (someday drones will be free!), I saw the Asctec Falcon 8 UAV, made by the Intel-acquired company Ascending Technologies. Man, it’s fast and agile. It can even fly with broken props ― of course, depending on payload, the number of props it can operate without fluctuates.

This commercial drone is being used for inspections by Airbus and it even surveyed damage from the recent earthquake in Italy. The Falcon 8 has a flight time of 12-20 minutes and costs about $28,000.

Well, those are the five InterDrone exhibitors that really stood out to me. Actually, there’s one more that deserves a shoutout because … THE CLAWS. I don’t know whether to be stoked or terrified.

Read about InterDrone’s Women in Drones Luncheon here.

Featured image: InterDrone

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