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Just over a week ago, I walked away from the AUVSI XPONENTIAL in Dallas with mixed emotions: not all that glitters is gold and where there’s smoke, there´s fire!

Let me explain.

 

Not All That Glitters is Gold

We are in a very young industry. New ideas, new applications, new regulations, new products. So much is in flux. Certainly, there is a certain feeling of gold rush in the air.

The reality on the ground, however, often has a different feel. Former military folks struggle to translate their experience into a civilian job. Tech aficionados who love to pilot their RC planes on weekends hope to make a fortune in this modern-day Klondike. Many start their own small businesses just to get a foot in the door.

One of the keynotes at XPONENTIAL that impacted me the most addressed these realities, not uncommon for an infant industry. It´s about the steps we must take on our way to maturity.

This is a photo I snapped during the presentation of the seven phases/steps.

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Just to touch on the first three:
GRIT is when there are all kinds of ideas floating around; idealism and determination are high.
In the HOPE phase, we set up shop and keep doing whatever we know best in hopes that someone will invest, a customer will appear, and we will feature on Inc.com.
In the CAPACITY stage, our business is beginning to consolidate. There is growth; we start making ends meet. Fewer sleepless night now.

 

Ok, so far not that novel. But here comes the kicker!

The speaker then asked the entire audience of several thousand to text him where they are in their respective business journey.

The results: 41% HOPE, 31% CAPACITY. Only 5% said they were in BANK, that elusive spot where you meet ROI goals, and a place in the Hamptons does not seem entirely out of the question.

In other words, a whopping 72% are either hoping or just starting to make it. In my experience working with literally hundreds of you across the industry, that’s a pretty accurate assessment of our young industry. Moreover, it confronts us with some fascinating realities for businesses as well as job seekers in the Unmanned and Robotics Industry.

Over the course of the next few months, I will take a closer look at how to survive, how to invest, how to staff, and how to thrive in this challenging industry.

However, first, a let´s take a walk on the bright side.

 

Where There´s Smoke, There´s Fire!

I firmly believe that our industry will reshape much of our lives in the span of a couple of decades. Otherwise, I would not be here.

And I am not alone. But make no mistake: the next big thing in our industry will not be drones or autonomous submarines. It will not be self-driving cars as such, either.

Why? Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, explained it in his interesting (and entertaining) XPONENTIAL presentation.

He spoke of data as “the new oil.” Krzanich makes the point that to function an autonomous vehicle needs to process the staggering amount of 4,000 Gigabytes – per day!

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“In fact”, he says,

“one of the trends I see as most disruptive to almost every industry is the enormous flood of data driven by the proliferation of smart, connected devices.”

Krzanich concludes that whoever has the best data will be able to:

  • develop the best artificial intelligence tools of machine learning, deep learning algorithms, and data analytics,
  • build the best applications, and
  • deliver the best user experience.

While Krzanich focuses on self-driving cars, his main point will affect most other business sectors as well. It sometimes is easy to forget that we live in a world where all information is online. Mobile devices mean everybody can reach everybody else. Anytime. Anywhere. And cloud computing turns those devices into supercomputers.

That is the technological foundation for the big Unmanned transformation ahead of us. To me, that means that all the hoopla surrounding our industry is not just smoke and mirrors. The fire is burning! But you may be digging in the wrong place. The technically most sophisticated drone with the most experienced pilot at the stick is worth nothing without data.

So, my takeaway from XPONENTIAL 2017 is this: For that 72 % in the HOPE and CAPACITY stages it may be well worth considering where exactly the gold is buried. Taking a deep breath and doing some thinking while you are still pondering your next career move or are fine tuning your business model may help avoid mistakes.

In my next article I will talk about my best guess of what recruiting in the unmanned industry might look like in about five years´ time. Join me then!

ManUP today for success tomorrow…

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