In the last of a series of interviews with key figures involved in the success of Drone World Expo, we talked to Gretchen West, Drone World Expo Advisory Board Chair; Senior Advisor, Hogan Lovells; Co-Executive Director, Commercial Drone Alliance.
Prior to joining Hogan Lovells, for over a decade, Gretchen served as AUVSI’s Executive Vice President, overseeing AUVSI’s global business development initiatives, international growth strategy, government relations and advocacy efforts for the unmanned systems and robotics industry.
What was (were) your main takeaway(s) from last year’s Drone World Expo ?
Last year’s Drone World Expo was a huge success with a qualified commercial end user attendance, a robust exhibit hall, and a tremendous amount of content and I expect this year will be even better. During the keynote last year we reported that the UAS drone registration topped 600,000 compared to 250,000 in 2015. Today that number is over 800,000.
In 2016 the key factors driving the growth in the industry were fuelled by the implementation of the long-awaited/anticipated Part 107; as well the new UAS/Drone registration system; recommendations for the FAA Micro UAS ARC; the creation and adoption of the NTIA and Industry Privacy Best Practices; and the Congressional Extension of FAA Reauthorization Act to name a few.
A lot has happened over the last 12 months – what do you see as the main trends during this period ?
Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen many changes in the regulatory and policy environments, from security concerns threatening to thwart the growth of our industry to challenging legislation being introduced. Investor money has continued to pour into the commercial drone market, but we’ve also seen some companies struggle with success and others that have gone the traditional path of mergers and acquisitions, so from a financial standpoint, I believe we’ll continue to see market consolidation.
From a technology standpoint, more and more companies are trying to create solutions to solve many of the existing gaps – remote identification, sense and avoid, data analytics – and more, and that trend will continue as the regulatory framework continues to evolve.
With the increasing number of licensed commercial drone operations in the USA, how do you consider the legal and insurance frameworks have adapted and does more progress need to be made ?
Like with everything else in the commercial drone industry, frameworks are evolving all the time – from legal to insurance to regulatory. The technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, and these frameworks often have to adapt faster than they’re accustomed to in other industries just to keep up. Many of these “services” have recognized the opportunities in moving swiftly and have learned as the industry has learned, but progress is still needed to stay at pace with technology advancement and adoption.
The commercial drone market is rapidly developing into a series of clearly –defined verticals – where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth ?
The commercial drone market is rapidly developing but also rapidly evolving with new technologies introduced every year, or even more frequently. Traditional vertical markets such as construction, mining, energy, inspection, broadcasting, real estate and more, I believe, still offer great opportunities for growth and those vertical markets are becoming more keen to adopt these technologies. However, we’re also seeing new technologies that will create opportunities, such as counter-drone technology and urban air mobility, or passenger-carrying drones. Delivery, whether consumer, commercial or humanitarian, is becoming more of a reality, and opportunities will continue to grow with those services.
What excites you most about the forthcoming third edition of Drone World Expo ?
The 3rd annual Drone World Expo will be bigger and better than before with a larger, qualified customer base of end users, a laser focus on specific and valuable content to educate commercial end users and another robust display of unique technologies in the exhibit hall. Like the last two events, the caliber of the speakers is unparalleled, and the Expo will be showcasing fresh content from new speakers which will create even more value for the attendees.
I’m particularly interested to see how the commercial end users come together, learn and network with the commercial drone industry and walk away inspired to move forward and grow this industry.