AUVSI 2024 aerial San Diego

XPONENTIAL 2024: The top products and news from AUVSI’s drone conference

XPONENTIAL 2024, the massive drone conference for uncrewed systems and robotics, wraps up today in San Diego. This year’s conference, which is considered one of the biggest drone events in the world, ran from April 22 to 25, 2024 at the San Diego Convention Center. XPONENTIAL 2024 is put on by Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems (AUVSI), which is a massive lobbying group that advocates for the drone industry.

With the conference came the big XPO Hall with tons of vendors (and free swag), plus keynotes, breakout sessions and workshops. Many tech companies use conferences like XPONENTIAL 2024 as a place to launch their newest products — which was certainly the case this year. And AUVSI itself included some new offerings, including outdoor demonstrations, a segment focused on the military, and a new zone called “Cyber City” focused specifically on digital defense.

The week has left attendees buzzing with the latest advancements in the field. So with that, here are the top highlights that stole the AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2024 show:

Pacific Pivot offers outdoor demos of defense drones

AUVSI 2024 aerial San Diego
An aerial view of Shelter Island on the San Diego Bay.

New to this year’s XPONENTIAL 2024, AUVSI ran a series of outdoor demonstrations of defense-oriented drones in an area called ‘Pacific Pivot.’ Attendees saw intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drones, they saw hydrogen fueled drones, and they saw anti-drone detection in action.And given the flights over the ocean, Pacific Pivot was able to showcase maritime domain awareness, too. Among the companies that put on demonstrations included:

  • Jaia Robotics: uses drones for aquatic data collection
  • MatrixSpace: builds an ultra-small radar system to provide integrated outdoor surveillance in 4D
  • Skydio: Builds American-made drones, most notably (and on display) the Skydio X10D

The conference used its location in downtown San Diego to conduct demonstrations from Pepper Park to Point Loma and around San Clemente Island.

An increased focused on defense

Adam Bry, Skydio CEO conducts a demo flight with Deputy Secretary of Defense Katheen Hicks. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza)

Those live demonstrations were just the start of this conference’s emphasis on defense. In fact, AUVSI 2024 served as the site of the second installment of ‘AUVSI Defense.’ That event was a convergence of military leaders and industry executives, including high-ranking military officials. Military representatives included leaders from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force, as well as federal agencies including DARPA, DCMA, DHS, DIU, FAA, NASA and the NSA.

AUVSI Defense came at a critical time as the drone industry grapples with various military projects and general Buy American questions. Many formerly consumer-oriented drone companies, including Skydio and Teal, have since pivoted to focus on the defense sector. And government efforts like the Replicator initiative have certainly made it interesting for American drone companies to do so.

The third installment of AUVSI Defense is set for Oct. 23 and 24 in McLean, Virginia.

Drone cybersecurity comes to forefront

AUVSI used its opening day keynote to announce some fairly significant news with the Department of Defense (DoD).

The organization announced that it was entering what’s called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). With that MOU, the two are creating a process for drone component manufacturers that also hold a Green UAS certification to share their data with the DIU.

The goal? To make it easier to add certified components to the DIU’s Blue UAS Framework list. And by being on that list, cybersecurity products and their supply chains would become more streamlined, in turn making it more clear as to what drone parts truly are NDAA-verified.

Green UAS certification is a process somewhat similar to the compliance and cybersecurity verification procedures used to verify products on DIU’s Blue UAS list.

In the future, Green-certified components could be more easily added to the DIU’s Blue UAS Framework list. 

“The intent behind this effort is to increase availability of NDAA verified UAS components to the uncrewed industry at large and streamline the process for Blue UAS consideration,” said Derek McBride, Deputy Director of DIU’s Autonomy Portfolio. “Providing better options for our warfighters and our national security is paramount.”

Book signings

Most people come to conferences for networking, but AUVSI 2024 did one better by featuring book signings. Some important drone book authors brought their books on Wednesday, April 2024 for a meet-and-greet plus book signing. That included Desiree Ekstein, author of Elevate Your Standards and La’Quata Sumter, author of multiple drone books including Dronology – The Complete Guide. Sumter also authored the “Flying Drones with Jaxon” drone children’s book. And speaking of drone children’s books, another author, Sharon Rossmark, was there signing her series which includes a kid’s coloring book.

Startups get some spotlight

Though the drone industry has certainly found its foothold in the last few years, there’s still room for drone startups. Yes, that comes even at a time when drone industry funding is showing signs of drying up. Over at the XPO+ Launcher Startup pavilion, drone startups could showcase their ideas.

On Wednesday, April 24, startups pitched at the Innovation Theater on the exhibition floor. The day concluded with he first XPO+ Launcher Pitch Award followed by the XPO+ Launcher VC & Startup Reception. Much of the day was powered by GENIUS NY, a business accelerator program based in Syracuse, New York that hosts an annual startup competition. GENIUS NY also claims to be the world’s largest UAS accelerator.

Among the startups that conducted demonstrations included Aerotate, Angel Aerial Systes, Arrive, Duality Robotics, Field AI, Lift.Works, Linia, Pattent, Phoenix Flight Industries, Secure AI, Semai, Shearwater Aerospace, Upgrade Energy and WingXpand.

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