Events / Technology

‘Drones will be as big as the internet’: conference draws UAV pros to Cape May

Delaware drone boosters were there in force. Here's why they think the First State is sitting on a golden opportunity.

A panel at the second annual UAS Conference, held in Cape May, N.J. (Courtesy photo)
You’re at a conference. You’re walking from a panel to an exhibit and you notice a buzzing above your head. You look up, and there’s a tiny aircraft, almost the size of a bird gliding down the hall.

That was my first impression of the second annual Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Conference last week in Cape May, N.J., which quite a few members of the Delaware drone task force attended, along with people from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They were all there to talk about the future of drones.
“The drone industry reminds me of the early internet days, drones will be as big as the internet,” said Mark Ryan, cofounder of Lewes’ Ryan Media Lab, which recently launched the ATOM 4000 #dronevertising machine.

I view this a cluster area.

But why was the conference held in New Jersey? Because it’s one of the few Federal Aviation Administration–regulated test sites on the East Coast, which made it an industry trailblazer. Of course, it’s a little easier for New Jersey because the William J. Hughes Technical Center is located less than an hour from Cape May, according to Cape May County freeholder Will Morey.
That’s right, Delaware doesn’t have a drone test site yet, even though there are long stretches of land along the lower part of the state in Kent and Sussex counties that would fit the bill.
Topics covered at the conference included personal rights to privacy, drone best practices, safety, regulations and technology adoption and linking drone startups to end users. But most important was the panel on how the drone industry can be seen as an economic driver.
Tony Samaritano, founder of Philly-based drone entertainment company Verge Aero, spoke on the creative applications of drones in the entertainment industry. “When people think about drones they think of them as utilitarian … they don’t think, ‘That can replace fireworks,'” he said.
In a packed room, there was a healthy representation from the private sector, government and regulatory agencies like the FAA.
Corporate investor Mary Kay James of DuPont Ventures paid the conference a visit to learn about the potential product applications of drone technology.
“What I look for is different ways to deliver new tech to our business units,” she said. “Drones have a particular applicability in the agriculture area. A lot of farmers are looking at drones as possible tools to improve their yield. … I view this a cluster area, especially with the Delaware River and Bay Bridge Authority.”
House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) also spoke on the potential economic impact of drones.
“There’s almost no section of the economy you can think of that would not or could not be positively affected by drone technology,” he said. “These are not government dollars that are pushing it, they’re private-sector dollars that are generating the energy and enthusiasm about these jobs.”
Delaware is not the only state lagging behind in drone legislation, however. “We, as a nation, are very, very behind,” said Anthony La Sure of Pentagon Performance, Inc.
“These conferences usually happen in places like Nevada,” said Scott Green, executive director of the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which is why Green wanted to bring a UAV conference to the East Coast. The conference was hosted by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, Cape May County and the Liberty Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
What does this all mean? East Coast drone advocates are hard at work to cultivate this industry. It’s a goldmine waiting to be explored, they say.
There are economic drivers that Delaware can take advantage of, especially in the lower parts of the state. Judging the Delaware presence at the conference, I wouldn’t be surprised if the drone industry in Delaware started to bloom in the next year or two. And you know, the term “Delaware drone industry” does have a nice ring to it.


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