Countdown to XPONENTIAL: AUVSI President & CEO Brian Wynne emphasizes the high potential of uncrewed systems
Hardly any industry will be able to work without them: The growing importance of uncrewed systems has prompted Messe Düsseldorf to partner with the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Now, from May 8 to 11, AUVSI and Messe Düsseldorf North America will co-host the industry’s leading trade show, XPONENTIAL, in Denver, Colorado, for the first time. Brian Wynne, President & CEO of AUVSI, explains where the high potential of the technology comes from and how diverse the areas of application are.
Mr. Wynne, you describe yourself as a man who is ‘passionate about all things uncrewed’. Where does this passion come from?
One of the key moments for me was a couple of German twins that took drone technology, strapped it to a bathtub, and flew around in that bathtub. It was one of many times in my career when I saw something result from technology that I had not anticipated. I think a lot about how technology will evolve and be useful in the future. In uncrewed systems, many different technologies converge in very unpredictable ways and create new and useful things. That is what makes them so fascinating to me. They will be disruptive in many industries, in the air, on the ground, and in the maritime domain. But disruptive in a very positive and supportive way.
In which industries do uncrewed systems already play a significant role today, and what are their applications?
Let’s start with the one that everybody probably benefits from – the film industry. Whenever you watch a movie, you will see a shot that must have been done with a drone. Drones and other uncrewed systems offer incredible opportunities for many industries – from construction to agriculture, to oil and gas. They can be used to inspect or measure things in dangerous environments thus protecting or even saving lives. We have just seen that after the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, where uncrewed systems helped to find people under the rubble. Married to artificial intelligence, they can also make tasks more efficient and cost-effective, like allowing utility companies to see where there is a problem and to direct resources to address it.
Will uncrewed systems gain importance in more industries over the coming years? Where do you see the greatest growth potential?
The Holy Grail is in the commercial delivery space. As there are more uncrewed systems launching in the airspace, roads, and even seas, their use requires having rules that allow us to integrate these systems in a way that is safe and unlocks their greatest possible benefit. This will open up a whole world of utilization. Largely electrified transportation, for example, to deliver goods in cities as well as in places that are very remote.
How will uncrewed systems evolve technically? Do you expect groundbreaking innovations or is continuous development more likely?
It depends especially on the development of energy storage and AI. Over the years, the technologies have evolved greatly. Electric vehicles can cover ever greater distances and carry ever greater loads. The charging time of batteries has shortened. We can hope for a breakthrough that will help us to electrify more things.
The same applies to the artificial intelligence space. Where we are going with uncrewed systems and uncrewed devices is a world in which they can direct themselves. Let’s say I am a drone. I am flying along, and I sense another drone and I take evasive action to avoid a conflict. Or I am part of a system, and that system identifies an emergency, and I must divert away from that helicopter. These actions will feed into the artificial intelligence that governs how uncrewed vehicles respond to one another. Both of those are examples of technologies that are being driven along and that we are going to benefit from.
Geographically speaking, what are the most interesting markets for uncrewed systems? How do you especially see the European market?
There is no question that the US market is the largest market. As an organization, we have up to now focused on the US market and there are still an unlimited number of industries there that will continue to embrace this technology. But there is a huge market outside the US, too. The demand signal to use uncrewed technology is very strong in Europe. It is particularly strong in Germany among a lot of the industrial industries and communities.
You launched XPONENTIAL, the world’s largest trade show for uncrewed systems and robotics. How has the trade show changed since its start?
XPONENTIAL faced an increasing focus on commercial opportunities. Today, people from very different industries meet at the trade show to exchange ideas and learn from each other. On the one hand, these are experts in technical development and in the application of unmanned technology. But there are also the people who want to apply the technology commercially and are looking for solutions. I would say that XPONENTIAL has become much more robust as the products have gotten better and more available. And there has been more and more demand for that.
Since 2022, Messe Düsseldorf is partner of XPONENTIAL. Why did you enter into this partnership?
We underwent a very competitive process to find a partner that could help us expand the show in the US and internationally. Messe Düsseldorf came out on top in that process. It is a very powerful organization with better reach into some of these vertical markets than we at AUVSI have. Internationally, our number one target is Europe and in Europe industrial firms in the heart of Germany are the most important target group. Messe Düsseldorf is perfectly placed to reach those targets, so our partnership is a perfect match.
What will be the highlights of the upcoming XPONENTIAL in Denver?
XPONENTIAL evolves all the time along with our community. Our focus is increasingly on autonomy and this year, we are specifically going to be rolling out a road map for autonomy. Here we concentrate on those who are looking for ways to integrate the technologies into their own vertical markets. We provide information on realizing autonomy, on how you go about making the business and implementing a safety regimen. Other important topics will be the cyber domain and data management. Uncrewed devices and systems are data collection tools. We are looking at new ways to create more standardized mechanisms for collecting and then using that data. Cyber is exceptionally important because we are so dependent upon our electronics. All of these systems must have a high degree of integrity and there must not be any opportunity for bad elements to hack into them. We have started a very specific program in the cyber domain to develop certification for different systems and for different products.
XPONENTIAL will be coming to Europe in the not-too-distant future: What do you expect from this move? And what can the European audience expect?
We are currently working out the details so I cannot give you too much information yet. What I can say is that it will take place in Düsseldorf and that it will definitely be a new venture – a truly European show that provides a business and networking platform for the uncrewed community in Europe. A conference will accompany the actual trade show. We want to foster dialogue not just across the Atlantic, but around the world. Uncrewed technology is moving to the mainstream very rapidly and many businesses and industries are involved. It is the right time to convene that marketplace in Europe.
Brian Wynne has been a pilot for more than 20 years and possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience around transportation and technology applications gained through various leadership positions with industry associations and institutions. Since January 2015, he has served as President & CEO of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), he world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of uncrewed systems and robotics. Previous positions include President & CEO of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) as well as Senior Vice President for business and trade at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA).
XPONENTIAL 2023 will take place from May 8 to 11 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. More than 600 exhibitors will showcase their products and solutions for unmanned and autonomous systems. The accompanying conference will be held under the motto “A Blueprint for Autonomy”.