Looking Back at XPONENTIAL 2017: UAV Market Trends and Implications


Last spring, Michele Nichols and Aimee Schenck attended AUVSI XPONENTIAL, the prominent unmanned vehicle conference and exhibit, where some of our clients were presenting technical papers. Our team was also there for market intelligence, looking for market fit and viability for many of our component manufacturing clients. Even if you aren't ready to exhibit at a show, you can learn so much about the upcoming industry trends by simply walking the floor. Here are a few of our takeaways from last year's show:


1. A Growing Middle Ground

Component manufacturers like optics and photonics companies have been quick to dismiss the UAV space, but the middle market between toys and defense is real and rapidly growing. Some emerging applications will demand precision and volumes that make cost structures viable for those willing to innovate and invest. Exhibitor 4D Technology caught attendees’ attention with their PolarCam micropolarizer camera, which is light enough to mount on mid-sized industrial drones.

IR companies are seeing real interest in thermal applications as well. Rochester Precision Optics’ Adam Dunn commented, “We saw some very exciting technologies and applications at XPONENTIAL. UAV technology is taking full advantage of visible and IR technologies to improve infrastructure inspection methods, improving efficiencies and safety across the board.”


2. Driverless Tech

Though the show was perhaps 70% focused on aerial markets, presentations like Lasertel’s “Increasing Performance and Reducing Costs for Laser Sources for LiDAR” attracted a crowd and spurred questions on lidar vs. radar in driverless vehicles.

"We heard a lot of questions on higher powered lidar for UAV,” said Lasertel Account Manager Rollin Roos. “This is certainly achievable, but there will be cost challenges for commercial UAV."


3. Regulatory & Cost Challenges

Both driverless cars and UAV markets present component manufacturers with shared concerns and barriers:

  • Price points
  • Commercially viable high volume applications
  • Unknown regulations
  • Specification requirements
  • Timeline to volume production
  • Repositioning their marketing to enter new markets and attract new customers
  • Big data and analytics (though tremendous advances in CPU power have gotten us far)

"Eye safety standards remain a question for both UAV and automotive. There are a lot of unknowns, but this industry is collaborating to design systems that meet anticipated performance and regulatory demands," said Roos.

For components selling on high precision, lower weight, and reduced cost at high volume, this is a market that warrants study. Need help understanding your buyers’ needs, requirements, and drivers? Building your brand and establishing a market position while dealing with emerging market ambiguity? We’re happy to talk.     

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Want to meet at this year's show? Schedule an "undercover" booth visit from one of our colleagues to put your trade show strategy to the test.