What happened at the AMA Expo 2015?
I’ve been a card carrying member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) for over a decade, when my first plane was a 2-channel (Motor Off-On and a Rudder) toy with a turning radius of Texas from a hobby store. Today that humble start has grown into a whole collection of Warbirds, 3D planes, EDF jets, Helicopters and of course the Multirotors. I’ve always meant to go to the AMA Expo http://amaexpo.com/ held every year in Ontario in South California, but for one reason or another I never quite made it. This year given the influx of “drones”, I wondered how the AMA and the AMA Expo was coping with this change. Luckily I managed to get a Media Pass as I was covering the AMA Expo for RC Flight Camera Action Magazine in the UK (also thanks to AMA for sorting the pass out for me.) So this post is going to be a bit different, as I realized that I had a lot of photographs. So instead I’m going to let the photographs do the talking, interspersed with commentary from myself.
The Expo was spread over a number of days, Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th January. I attended Saturday the 10th, when the AMA General Meeting was held, with a large crowd. in attendance. The speaker line-up was impressive http://amaexpo.com/speaker-series/ as well as the event schedule http://amaexpo.com/attractions/schedule-of-events/
As the crowd was queuing out of the door for the main hall I headed off to look at the Estate Sale and Swap Meet. There where 3 rooms set aside outside the main hall, and they were extremely busy. This was the place to find that bargain.
Main Hall and Vendors
After the swap meet I headed over to the Main Hall now that the crowd had died down. As you entered the Ontario Convention Center you could tell that the AMA had done a great job of bringing a lot of vendors together, to display a whole range of diverse products and services.
First off the Static Display. Even given the abundance of ARF’s and RTF’s, the scratch and kit building is going strong. That’s not to say ARF and RTF are bad, the quality compared to 6 or 7 years ago is great and has got a lot more people into RC flying. But nothing is quite as beautiful as a scratch built model. You just know the hours and patience in building these models.
My personal favorite was the P51 Mustang, it was amazing, the pictures don’t do it or any of the planes justice. Continuing on the plane theme, there was quite a selection of fixed wing vendors.
Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, Precision Aerobatics, SebArt (love those planes) and of course Ritewing (FPV and Mapping fixed wing masters with their Z2, Z3 and new under development Drak.) The Habu and Slick where particular tempting.
So not to be left out and and not to be outshone by the “drone” syndrome, Helicopters were out in force. Nice to see Align TREX still going strong as well as Forza and Blades.
So now we come to the Multirotors. So were there many at the AMA Expo? Well the answer to that is a big fat definite YES. Juts like at CES 2015, I can happily say 2015 is definitely the year of the “drone” Interesting enough the multirotor market has now fractured into more specialized niches. These can be broken down into hobbyist, amateur viedo and photogrpahy, professional video and photography, aerobatic/flipping inverted and finally FPV racers. So here’s a look at some of the multirotors in each category.
There was quite a selection of hobbyist multirotors, with Horizon Hobby, Hobbico having full ranges from the miniature up to the 200 size class. These copters are great for an introduction to flying and has become one of the fastest growing segments in the RC hobbyist field. In fact I believe this growth in hobbyist multirotors has lead to the AMA hitting a new membership record. I must say I congratulate the AMA for reaching out to multirotor enthusiasts, and helping educate them with such programs as “Know before you Fly” http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/ I also congratulate the manufacturers who are adding more functionality and safety features such as Horizon Hobby SAFE technology.
Amateur Video and Photography
The trend with manufacturers appears to be designing drones with gimbals and either a GoPro camera mount or their own proprietary cameras. This year appears to be the year that video downlinks and FPV for amateurs is really getting traction. Here you see the Roswell Flight Crew checking out a AP multirotor with a video downlink built into the controller. Also a very nice system from UAVX with control sticks for flight, a separate set gimbal sticks for the gimbal and a HD video downlink. It can also be paired with Google Glass, so you can see all the information and video downlink as your flying.
Professional Video and Photography
Two multirotors stood out at the AMA Expo for professional use, everyone knows the DJI Inspire 1, however the other newcomer is the Align M690L, I’ll talk more about that later.
Aerobatic, Inverted and Flipping Multirotors
Yes areobatic flipping and inverted drones were popping up all over the place. Here is a demonstration from Invertex, pretty cool demo flight. http://youtu.be/2EqzaKSI-JM
The FPV community was well represented by the likes of XHover, RC Depot and DroneProz. The last two photographs are of my first FPV Racer by RC Depot QAV250. It’s flying on an OpenPilot CC3D that is simple to connect, setup and flies amazingly well. Looking froward to spending more time flying it. I’ll keep you posted. DroneProz had a RTF package and they explain about it here http://youtu.be/pkl62Wrau_4
That Drone Show
I believe by now most people know “That Drone Show” and David and Sarah Oneal, http://www.thatdroneshow.com/ who do an excellent job of interviewing a whole spectrum of personalities in the drone community. I met up with them at the AMA Expo, here you can see David doing his stuff with XHover, whilst later Sarah interviewed me http://youtu.be/tFCvENpsJVU They are also organizing International Drone Day and yes under their persuasive powers I’m the Captain of Team Santa Cruz. http://www.internationaldroneday.com/
Thanks to Lia Reich (Senior Director of Communications) of Precision Hawk http://www.precisionhawk.com who gave Tyler Collins (Director of Business Development) the heads up I was dropping past for a talk. As you know from my previous posts I am very involved in the UAV Precision Agriculture area, so it was good to meet up with Tyler and discuss Tyler’s experience’s and my own. As to be expected we had a lot in common, including it’s all about the data, the drone is just a platform for sensors, NDVI is useful but not the magic bullet people profess it to be. Overall it was a very enjoyable chat. Tyler also gave me a run down on their new LATAS sense and avoid technology which works over 2/3G cellular links. Whats very interesting is that Precision Hawk are rolling LATAS out as an open source product, which is a very insightful idea. The only way to critical mass and roll-out is to have a large number of people adopt a common strategy, and open source allows lots of different users to get involved and generate that critical mass.
GPC had a case for everyone as can be seen below. The new Align Canon D5 copter case, Iris+, Phantom and even FPV racer cases.
Indoor flying areas were put to one side with a packed schedule, with Pro fliers wringing out the planes and helicopters, showing new designs and eye watering maneuvers.
Well there was a lot to see at the Expo, including tanks, helicopters, gliders, the Civil Air Patrol, even NASA and the Roswell Flight Test Crew!
Anyone who has flown helicopters knows of Align. A lot of pilots cut their teeth on the TREX 450 me included. Well Align has kept the helicopter brand going strong and has now branched out into the multirotor market with 4 new models http://www.align.com.tw/multicopter-en/. The Leap, M470( GoPro), the 800mm M480L (GH4) and the 900mm M690L (Canon 5D MIII). As is normal with Align, the cost is extremely competitive and the quality and support outstanding. Looking over the designs, you can see the well thought out details.
Multirotor of the Expo
So the standout of the AMA Expo for myself was the Align M690 http://www.align.com.tw/multicopter-en/m690l/ which costs $1799.99. You can add a 3D gimbal for a GH4 for $1299.99, and a 3D gimbal for a Canon D5 MIII for $1389.99. That is $3189.98 for a quality Canon 5D AP platform. That’s with Align quality and support. A copter of this quality at this price point is unheard of.
The AMA Expo pretty much lived up to my expectations with a diverse array of vendors and products. However yet again, all the evidence points towards that 2015 is the Year of the Drone.