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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Inaugural ASPRS UAS Conference 2014 held in Reno

November 3rd, 2014 by Susan Smith

The inaugural ASPRS UAS Conference was held October 20-22 in Reno, Nevada, bringing together a diverse group of technologists, pilots, surveyors, vendors and consultants to talk about this emerging technology. 500 attendees and 50 exhibitors were in attendance.


Master of Ceremonies, Lewis Graham of GeoCue, opened with his comments on the importance of miniaturization, connectivity and sensors in the UAS market.

“Miniaturization and connectivity and sensors. Sensors will communicate in intelligent ways, software in background to make that happen,” said Graham. In addition, “Sense and avoid” type of technology/ software makes decisions based on proximity of the aerial system.”

The confluence of miniaturization, guidance and control systems, motors, sensors, on the photogrammetry side, new technologies out of robotic vision, taking point clouds of photos and taking information from this all conspire to bring UAS to the forefront and make it a force to be reckoned with.

Pix4D City Construction

Pix4D City Construction

The drone industry is coming to Nevada, said US Representative for Congress Ken Brooke who works for Rep. Mark Amodei. With a video appearance from the mayor of Reno and appearances from other statesmen, it was clear that the UAS or drone industry is a political topic. According to Brooke, Washington “doesn’t know much about drones,” but they know it’s a booming industry.

It is also an industry that promises to turn many existing industries upside down and inside out. Gravel companies, for example, can do measuring with UAS. What does this do to conventional mapping and surveyors? There are total stations, RTK and UAS that can do the same job now.

Dr. Michael Hauck, Executive Director ASPRS, talked about how LiDAR systems were originally developed to make maps of the moon in preparation for human landing. “We can map from above with satellite, plane and UAS,’ said Hauck. “We can map from below, with terrestrial mappers, road mapper, mobile systems and UAS, map inside and outside buildings.”

We can fuse data to make 3D/4D/nD maps and create new models that insinuate new ways to map the earth. We can see how changes occur, can building models of our cities that have interiors as well.

Dr. Steward Walker, President ASPRS who is also at BA Systems, spoke about the evolution of ASPRS, now in its 80th year. This conference was arranged by the Northern California Regional Chapter of ASPRS.

“UAS will make a difference to the society,” said Walker. “People got excited at a meeting about UAS quickly formed a group and became a task force and organized this conference. ASPRS wants to be seen as a major player in the UAS world.”

The organization is going through the process of setting up a UAS division, just as they did with LiDAR a few years ago. They should be ratified at the annual conference in Denver in a few months, he said.

There may be a need for certification in the area of UAS just as there is for the use of LiDAR.

Working Toward Acceptance of UAS

Along those lines, Pierre le Roux, a model airplane flyer, said that there are risks in this phase of UAS at the moment but that through ASPRS and other support systems, the community can get authoritative guidance to help mitigate the risk.

“It’s our duty to educate the public and lawmakers without bias or prejudice,” said Le Roux, and said he hoped that ASPRS would become the “go-to” place for UAS. The validation ranges established at this conference are the first step toward a nationwide initiative. Because Nevada has a lot of land and not many people living in it, it has been selected as one of six test sites for UAS. Warren “Bum” Rapp, NAASIC UNR, said “We hope you come to Nevada in the future to test using our register points we have on the ground using your navigations systems. We are the first state to be doing indoor and outdoor testing.”

Further, Nevada is the first state to buy large netting systems, that allows you to put your GPS signals out. In southern Nevada people can get a range within a week to fly.

In the afternoon, attendees were bussed out to the test site to see the performance of various UAVs.

Vikki Stone, POMS & Associates, talked next about insurance, which is what her firm offers to the UAS industry. “Insurance companies are underwriting UAVs and particularly UAV operators, looking at your experience and what your machine is going to do,” said Stone.

Attorney Cameron Cloar, Nixon Peabody, said that UAVs are really disrupting the legal industry.

“Two main points: from a regulatory standpoint – when are we going to have rules, when are we able to use these, and when will the FAA allow this to take flight?,” said Cloar. “The FAA adapts very slowly, we’re definitely seeing slow and measured progress, but it’s still an open question where the regulations will fall. Will they allow the true potential of the technology to soar? Or will it require approvals after approvals in place? If we are to achieve a more nimble environment it’s going to take a lot of work from people in this room. 2) Liability issue – notwithstanding the regulatory environment, for designers, knowing and retaining your intellectual property. You will have to put in place in strong foundations for product integrity that will help with possible lawsuits against your company.”

Patrick Egan, publisher of the sUAS News, an online industry newsletter, said that he has been working on airspace integration with the FAA for the last ten years. “FAA hasn’t established what the official “line-of-sight” is. I’m on the new “line-of-sight” committee and looking for input from users for business and safety cases for flying beyond line-of-sight.”

“As soon as people realize what you can do – self-guided data collection, we will see an end user app like for mapping,” he said. “Most of these smaller drones should be able to be used without having the trappings of business aviation. 230 countries are flying and making money. Two can fly beyond line-of-sight.”

Stewart Baillie of Unmanned Systems Canada confirmed that in their country they understand how unmanned aircraft need to be regulated. They have been flying legal operations since the 1990s.

Pilot Jonathan Evans of, has been flying both helicopters and planes for a long time. “I think we’re on the edge of the next great revolution in aviation technology,” he said. “Aerial robotics is the nexus of aviation technology and the internet.”

Aerial robotics are reaching out from information networks to the physical world. Now with an iPhone, you can have an information service delivered to you – something from Amazon or pharmaceuticals. It can be delivered on an aero-robotics network and you’ll receive it in half an hour. “It is the physical manifestation of the internet, and presents a complex problem,” said Evans.

He predicts that aerial robotics will be as common to our infrastructure as the smartphone.

This is a good metaphor for the visual and regulatory acuity of the FAA. “It’s a yellow pool of light – that you recognize from the air, you recognize cities that way,” Evans pointed out.

“If you start putting up robotics and sensors, and building maps that will inform farmers that morning about what to do, you’ll need a map with greater visual acuity,” Evans said. “I empathize with the FAA because we don’t know how to bring in the level of safety – that standard into this aero-robotic space yet.”

A map is a metaphor for the rules. Digital air charts bring in current rules that bring jets down from the sky. If we can add the aero-robotics networks and rules acuity we need in the city.

Evans showed a network of pharmacies that he brought to the Portland urban planning development,that also includes route optimizations for integrating robotics into the city.

He outlined other rules that could occur, starting with an enterprise flight management system where owners can register their own vehicle, the equivalent of having a pilots’ license and map address. “We’re changing this into a digital architecture, and packets of sensors will move around in the real world, with little fear of colliding as package of data on the internet,” Evans said.

Aerial Robotics Network wants to create safe air corridors and route management. workflow streamlines the process of obtaining the proper certificates, waivers and other paperwork required.

Some organizations forming to support various aspects of UAS or UAVs:

AirVu is an enterprise flight management system in a digital architecture. Using an iPad in the field, you can log that flight, and charge for it.

The Dronecode Foundation has led the charge on building a coalition at the code level in an Open Source environment.

Free resources:

Drone eBook – Drone database of manufacturers, sensors and software

For addtional coverage of UAS please see our Special Coverage: UAS – Disruption in the Skies

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Categories: 3D Cities, asset management, cloud, data, drones, Esri, Esri UC 2014, geocoding, geomatics, geospatial, GIS, laser radar, LBS, Leica Geosystems, lidar, mapping, mobile, NASA

3 Responses to “Inaugural ASPRS UAS Conference 2014 held in Reno”

  1. Bertrand Bays says:

    We at Transition Habitat conservancy plan to introduce drones to monitor over 6000 acres of land we own and manage. Is there any app that can import parcel layers to plan flight paths?

  2. Susan Smith says:

    You may wish to contact some of the geospatial vendors, and those who are doing agricultural flying of drones for that type of information. Good luck! Susan

  3. […] back when ASPRS was looking at drones, they hosted the Inaugural ASPRS UAS Conference 2014 held in Reno and their people began to cautiously look at it. They were very rigorous in approaching drones. […]

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