I have been to 5 of these shows in the past few years and it is clear that the multicopters segment is growing very fast. While I don’t have numbers I would say that the number of companies with some sort of multicopter has doubled from last year. Even some of the better known hobby multicopter manufactures like DJI were there with displays and demos this year. The majority of the multicopters where of what I refer to as “offshore oil platforms” which have all the equipment exposed and really don’t have much visual appeal. There were a few that did have some nicely finished multicopters which also tended be offered as complete packages with useful sensors and flight systems that were simple enough that they could be operated by a police officer or soldier without extensive training. The vast majority of the smaller players vehicles are just too close to hobby grade to make it in the UAS market. One of the more unique ideas was a multicopter that had wings—it takes off using the 4 electric motors in multicopter mode—then it uses the Honda engine to drive a pusher prop which allows it to fly on it’s wings. The electric motors are shut down and the props are positioned to reduce drag and off it flies on its mission–when it returns the electric motors start and the gas motor is shut off and it then lands as a multicopter—simple?maybe not! They say it works great but it looked rather heavy with that gas motor…….
The fixed wings and helicopters were the most common vehicles by a large margin. They ranged from tiny planes that weighed a few oz to a full size unmanned Sikorsky S76 helicopter named the “Matrix” Seems as if the brave new world is just about here! Welcome aboard “unmanned airways”. Of course the big UAS companies like Northrup, Lockheed, General Atomics and AV were there with large displays of their latest developments. Both AV and some other large companies have been developing very small UAVs to be used as flying bombs intended to attack and I assume kill. While browsing around one of the larger UAV company booths I came across what I suspect is one such craft—with a name of “terminator” is is hard to imagine it being anything else but a bomb!
There were quite a few companies showing off all manner of ground vehicles–some had track, some walked, some where a couple pounds and some were thousands of pounds! More than one company brought small tractors that had been modified to autonomous operation—some kids could have a great time destroying the neighborhood if they got their hands on one! Soon you will not need a skilled heavy equipment operator to level a lot—just do it by a few mouse clicks and it does the work on tis own!
Just as interesting were some of the manufactures of sub systems–including sensors,power systems, propellers, materials and all manner of other cool stuff. There were suppliers of cool data links, sensors and fancy carbon fiber.
One aspect of these shows is that many of the people in the industry and government that attend are modelers themselves. I see quite a few people I know from the hobby at these events. At this show Bob Brown the current AMA president and Richard Hanson dropped by to talk —AMA is trying to keep up with the trends and developments in the UAV field so as to be in a better position to try and protect the hobby activities that are core to our hobby from excessive government regulation.
And speaking of UAVs, Steve also writes: “Looks like it is becoming possible to “certify” UAVs for commercial operation—at least for restricted areas and applications. The AV Puma is electric powered–with one of our motors—the whole thing is able to be recovered in salt water. It is a rather ugly looking thing…