At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 in Atlanta Georgia, it was announced that the conference and trade show was being officially rebranded in 2016 to XPONENTIAL – An AUVSI Experience. The event, which runs from May 2 – May 5 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA, will feature more than 180 speakers, 335- plus educational sessions, and over 600 exhibitors representing more than 20 industries in the commercial, defense and civil arenas.

So, what can attendees expect to find at XPONENTIAL 2016?

The event kicks off on Monday afternoon, May 2, with educational programming and workshops from 1:30 to 4:30 pm, followed by welcome receptions in the early evening. These receptions are a great venue for first-time attendees and veterans alike to mingle and network in an informal relaxed atmosphere. Tuesday, May 3, kicks off with the first of three General Sessions planned for that week. According to AUVSI, the General Sessions bring together a host of industry leaders “…who are determined to reshape our world with the spread and integration of unmanned systems into countless aspects of our lifestyles, economies and national security paradigms.” Listen to what they have to say and stimulate your imagination before heading off each day to the exhibit hall or to one of the many educational sessions being offered.

Exhibit Hall

Speaking of the exhibit hall, there is certainly plenty to see and do. For starters, over 600 exhibitors spread out over 350,000 square feet of exhibit space will be showcasing the latest technology and solutions in all aspects of unmanned vehicle and robotics design, manufacturing and use including air, ground, surface, subsurface, space systems, weapons systems, security systems, engineering and R&D, propulsion systems, sensors, electronics, fabrication, imaging and communications systems, and much, much more.

Attendees can evaluate the latest unmanned vehicle and robotics technology up close in the exhibition hall. (Photo: AUVSI/Robb Cohen)
Centrally located in the exhibit hall is the Innovation Hub, a unique area where attendees can avail themselves of a variety of resources such as panel discussions, workshops and special interest sessions; technical poster presentations where attendees can interact face-to-face with people doing some of the latest cutting-edge research in unmanned vehicles and robotics; and something called “Beyond the Booth Showcase,” which is a specially selected assortment of the best products and partnership opportunities this year’s crop of exhibitors has to offer.

New to the Innovation Hub this year are Discussion Groups, specialized gatherings of individuals with similar interests where you can share ideas, trade information, brainstorm, solve problems, or network. Each Discussion Group will be moderated by an industry expert to keep the dialogue focused and productive.

Another popular attraction located on the show floor is Robots in Action, a special area where exhibitors can show off their small unmanned vehicle and robotics technology by demonstrating it live. Some of the companies who demonstrated their expertise during last year’s show were Aurora Flight Sciences. Lockheed Martin, Detroit Aircraft LLC, and Unmanned Cowboys LLC.

AUVSI’s educational sessions tend to attract standing-room only crowds. (Photo: AUVSI/Robb Cohen)
The exhibit hall will also play host to a number of special interest and technology pavilions. For example, the Air pavilion will highlight products and services specifically targeted to the UAS market such as engines, guidance systems, cameras, flight testing, and regulatory information. A new pavilion this year will be dedicated exclusively to the Survey and Mapping industry. According to AUVSI, the FAA has issued over 2,000 Section 333 exemptions to date, many affecting the aerial surveying industry, so there will be a lot of interest surrounding the technology on display in this pavilion. And for those who want to learn more about what’s going on in the industry beyond America’s borders, China, France and the UK will have their own pavilions showcasing what they have to offer.

For those interested as much in the future of the industry as the present, there is something called the Startup Showdown and pavilion where attendees can meet some of the newest entrepreneurs on the scene and find out what they’re working on. This is a must-see attraction for prospective investors who might be looking to back the next hot technology. Basically, an AUVSI panel of judges evaluated proposals submitted by the founders of early stage startups and chose fifteen semi-finalists who were invited to attend XPONENTIAL and meet with a panel of venture capitalist judges. From that group, three finalists will be selected to compete in the Startup Showdown on May 4 from 4:30 to 5:30 pm in the General Session room. There they’ll get six minutes each to make their pitch, and another six minutes to answer questions, in front of not only the judges but anyone else who cares to attend. All fifteen semi-finalists will also have exhibit space in the Startup Pavilion where they can discuss their technology with interested attendees.

Conference

Those seeking additional enlightenment can also attend a variety of technical sessions at XPONENTIAL 2016. The technical sessions have been separated into three tracks: Commercial, Defense and Civil. Although the program was still being finalized as we went to press, here are some of the educational programs being offered:

Commercial Track

  • Drones in the Enterprise: The Sky’s the Limit
  • The Technology Progression to Fully Automated Commercial and Industrial Vehicles
  • UAS Operations Management in the Oil and Gas Industry
  • Commercial Autonomous Ground Vehicles in Mining and Agriculture
  • Remote Sensors for Agriculture and Data Analysis Techniques for Improving Crop Health

Defense Track

  • Bourbon Street is a popular music and nightlife destination in New Orleans. (Photo: Bruce A. Bennett)
    Future Directions for Army UAS
  • General Officers Perspectives on UAS Programs, Operations and Requirements
  • Human – Robotic & Autonomous Systems Teaming (H-RAST) Beyond 2030
  • MCWL Robotic and Autonomy Experimentation; Past, Present, and Future
  • TerraMax UGV: The Next Generation Convoy

Civil

  • Disaster Robotics: Land, Sea, and Air
  • Application of Unmanned Vehicle Systems to Wildlife Research and Management
  • Bureau of Land Management: Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Natural Resource Applications

Additional Program and Session Topics

According to AUVSI, in addition to the above, other session topics being developed include:

  • Unmanned Systems and Robotics Testing
  • Counter UAS Technology Developments
  • The Future of UAS Data Acquisition, Storage and Dissemination
  • UAS Propulsion: New Developments, Research and Pathways Toward Improved Performance
  • Challenges of Integrating Large Ground Systems in the Battlefield

After Hours

Trumpeter Jamil Sharif performing at the Maison Bourbon jazz club on Bourbon Street. (Photo: Bruce A. Bennett)
If you’re not too tired after walking the show floor for hours or participating in the technical sessions, there is certainly no lack of interesting things to see and do in New Orleans. For starters, there’s the historic and colorful French Quarter, the oldest part of the city and one of the few parts not ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The French Quarter is where much of the city’s nightlife occurs. Great restaurants, old taverns and hot music clubs abound on many of its streets, the most famous being Bourbon Street. Regardless of what type of music, food or libations you like, there’s probably an establishment in the French Quarter that can cater to your tastes.

By day, try prowling the streets and alleyways and check out some of the buildings and architecture, much of which dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, giving this part of the city an old European atmosphere. Wander up to peaceful Jackson Square and marvel at the impressive equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson and the classic beauty of St. Louis Cathedral. If the French Quarter isn’t your cup of tea (there’s a phrase not used much in connection with New Orleans), you can hop a streetcar to the Garden District, or maybe book one of the popular cemetery or voodoo history tours. Or perhaps you’d like to cruise the mighty Mississippi aboard an old-fashioned paddlewheeler?

Given all that XPONENTIAL 2016 and its host city have to offer, you’ll experience a lot of things, but boredom won’t be one of them.