ODENSE, Denmark — The TUS Nordics 2017 event here earlier this month brought the whole drone industry together and revealed an end user’s dream of autonomous drones. The unmanned systems event included a day of live demonstrations of six drones at Hans Christian Andersen Airport, followed by two days of the conference and exhibition.
Attendees came from across Europe, as well as the U.S. and South Korea.
Niels Westendorp, co-founder of Robo Business Media (RBM), described his job as bringing people together and facilitating the unmanned systems market. That includes suppliers, inspection service providers, integrators, operators, investors, universities, innovation clusters, and more.
“This is a real value-chain event, from end user to manufacturer, and covering unmanned systems used in space, air, on the ground, and in the water,” he said. “With this event, we are focusing on the core capabilities of the Nordics.”
“We are happy to see growth in exhibitors and participants and will further develop TUS Nordics,” Westendorp added. “We are building strong partnerships with the ecosystem in the Nordic countries. RBM’s ambition is to further expand geographically to other continents with our conferences and trade shows in both unmanned systems and robotics.”
The TUS Nordics conference program included sessions on applications such as offshore and energy, security, and agriculture. Panels also looked at the future of unmanned systems, drone regulations, and the industry’s potential for growth.
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- TUS Nordics is a window into the market for unmanned systems in Northern Europe.
- Precision agriculture is among the many industries adopting unmanned systems as they quickly evolve and become more affordable.
- End users at the conference expressed hopes for more fully autonomous decision-support systems.
Drone demo and welcoming remarks
- Aalborg University in Denmark
- China-based RobSense Tech Co.
- France-based Drone Volt
- France-based Elistair
- Denmark-based Sky-Watch A/S
- University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
Jane Jegind, a member of the city council of Odense, opened the show. She was followed by Michael Larsen, commercial director of UAS Denmark.
“This is the fifth edition of this Nordic UAS event — now The Unmanned Systems Nordics,” he said. “We started out with setting up an international event four and a half years ago. Since then, we have been trying to grow the event together with the pace of the industry.”
“From the beginning, we had the idea of creating a strong, common Nordic event that could serve as a place for the Nordic drone industry to meet — as well as being a one-stop shop for the rest of the world to meet the Nordics and gain knowledge and insights into the challenges, particularly for the Nordic region,” Larsen said.
Agriculture and autonomous data collection
Agriculture is the most promising application for drones, but it is also the most difficult, said Lucas van Oostrum, founder of Netherlands-based Aerovinci, in the first keynote address.
Precision farming is needed to solve the problem of producing 70% more food with fewer resources in 2050 with 7.1 billion people, van Oostrum said. Autonomous drones should be a key part of the sensing network, gathering available data and collaborating with other systems, he said.
“We must make sustainable solutions without humans,” said van Oostrum. “We need to take the humans out of the loop, as pilots are limited and amount for 80% of costs.”
“Humans must be given the options only to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ with autonomous data collection and autonomous data processing or AI to eliminate the agronomist and turn data into actionable information. We need human input for validation,” he continued. “When the information is loaded into the tractor, it is an actionable advice.”
Van Oostrum explained that in the past, companies have been overpromising autonomous drones to the end users.
“You can only overpromise to a farmer once!” he added. “In order to be in this business, you need to analyze who your customers are with the high-value crops and work together with suppliers and make good processing. We are in the beginning of a bright future in the drone industry.”
He also mentioned aerial drone pioneers such as Amazon, Zipline, and Aerobotics. For instance, Zipline has uses drones for more than 1,200 flights in Rwanda. Deliveries of blood supplies would otherwise take days to reach people because of poor infrastructure.
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An end user dreams of autonomous drones
Count Frants Bernstorff-Gyldensteen lives at Gyldensteen, a historic manor built in 1640. It is surrounded by 800 hectares (1,976.8 acres) of cultivated land, including 200 hectares (494.2 acres) of onions and 70 hectares (172.9 acres) of pumpkins. The count and CEO of Gyldensteen is also an end user and said he wants more autonomous drones.
“I dream an almost autonomous decision-support system where observations made by drones are interpreted by a program that draws on all the knowledge about agriculture available, resulting in advice to the farmer, and in the long run by instructions directly to my equipment operating in the field,” he said at TUS Nordics.
“The fast pace of technological innovation poses a challenge when investing in this sort of equipment,” Bernstorff-Gyldensteen said. “Ideally, we as farmers would subscribe to the services offered by these technologies, rather than investing. That way, we would have access to the best solutions without the risk of owning obsolete equipment.”
“I would like to pick the low-hanging fruit with the latest technology,” he added. “As farmers, we need decision support with information of where to save fertilizer and pesticides.”
“In the U.S., they have a lot of hectares of one crop,” Bernstorff-Gyldensteen said. “Here, land is scarce — we would like to address every square meter. That will require data processing power of a new magnitude. [IBM] Watson offers that. … I look forward a future with that kind of power to assist me.”
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About TUS Nordics
TUS Nordics 2017 in Odense, Denmark, is the largest unmanned systems conference, expo, and demo in Northern Europe. The main partners are Hans Christian Andersen Airport, Innovation Network RoboCluster, the city of Odense, UAS Denmark, and the Week of Health and Innovation (WHINN). Robotics Business Review and Robotics Trends are media partners with the organizer, Robo Business Media. Next year’s TUS Nordics is scheduled for October 2018.