Photo by Amber Sampson

Seven Things We Learned From InterDrone

There are two kinds of drone savvy people in the world. There’s the kind who fly them, fork over hundreds just to buy them, and know the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations like they know the alphabet. On the other hand, there’s the people who only know the meaning of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) because it’s a killstreak in the video game series Call of Duty.

Fortunately InterDrone, an international conference that’s been dubbed “the CES of drones,” welcomed both kinds of people when it landed at the Paris Las Vegas Sept. 7-9. Here’s what we learned from the mass event.

1. Self-driving drones are in our foreseeable future. Boston-based company Neurala gave attendees a look at how it’s constructing a synthetic brain for drones by tapping into deep learning software through the use of graphic processing units (GPUs). With this tech, drones can learn how to identify and classify objects—such as cars and pedestrians—and learn how to avoid them, thus becoming a self-driving drone. Teal Drones just signed on with Neurala for its image-recognition software, which means your drone will soon follow you around on its own.

2. Tricopters win the game of drones. At this year’s InterDrone, YI Technology released the YI Erida, one of the fastest tricopters in the world. Quadcopters are the norm in the drone field, but a tricopter is an entirely different beast. Its three-rotor design gives it bullet-like agility. The YI Erida hits speeds up to 75 miles per hour, and has a full carbon body, which means it’s incredibly light and durable, even if you crash. It’s equipped with a 4K camera that shoots at 12 megapixels, 30 frames-per-second and for up to 120 minutes.

3. There are more women in the air space than you think. The invite-only luncheon Women in Drones drew herds of hobby fliers and entrepreneurs. Panelists included MarketWatch social media editor and drone reporter Sally French, Intel’s Natalie Cheung and Sharon Rossmark, Chief Operating Officer of AeroVista Innovations, among others. Tales of unconscious bias fueled the conversation. Being mistaken for someone’s wife or assistant, instead of a business owner, inspired collective nods from the crowd. In light of these challenges, the women spoke of perseverance, the importance of inclusion and inviting both your son and daughter to fly drones.

4. Drone flying has artistic potential. Agriculture, real estate and first-responder situations are just a few areas where drones flourish. But what about something a little more creative? At the Women in Drones panel, Cheung, Intel’s UAV product manager of Intel’s Perceptual Computing Group, spoke of a project the company launched called Drone 100. In this experience, 100 drones are guided to the sky for an elaborate, dancing-lights show tuned to orchestral music. We could easily see this becoming the digital age’s new fireworks.

5. A dual-armed robot drone is as cool as it sounds. ProDrone’s newest drone, PD6B-AW-ARM, has an alphabet-soup name, so we’ll just call it Game Changer. This thing is massive, and looks every bit like a robot as it does a flying aerial vehicle. Its dual arms can carry up to 22 pounds, which makes it ideal for cargo loading. The claws also enable it to turn dials, flick switches and cut cables. It’s even waterproof!

6. Part 107 is a step in the right direction. Part 107 is a set of commercial drone regulations recently finalized by the FAA. The rules require commercial drones to fly below 400 feet (unless within 400 feet of a structure), in daylight, weigh less than 55 pounds and always fly within your line of sight. This heightens safety for everyone involved, and opens the door to commercial uses.

7. There’s a global love affair with drones. A world map in the lobby of InterDrone asked, “Where are YOU from?” By the end of the conference, it resembled a patchwork of pins, all clustered in several states across the country, even in some parts of Europe, South America, Asia and Mexico. By the looks of what we saw this year, it’ll only continue to grow.