That’s a wrap: Another great Aerial Evolution Association of Canada Conference

That’s a wrap: Another great Aerial Evolution Association of Canada Conference

By Scott Simmie


What a great show.

The Aerial Evolution Association of Canada (formerly Unmanned Systems Canada – Systèmes Télécommandés Canada) held its annual conference and trade exhibition November 7-10 in Ottawa. The event had an excellent turnout, along with the usual selection of high-quality learning sessions.

There was plenty of discussion around the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, where new and transformative aircraft (many of which are innovative new autonomous drone designs with detect-and-avoid features) will routinely deliver heavy cargo and even passengers over dense urban centres and to regional communities not currently served by traditional aircraft.

Another timely topic was the increasing use of drones in the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the latest developments in Counter-UAS technologies (including both detection and mitigation). There was even a live demonstration of a new kinetic C-UAS drone that uses a net to disable and capture a rogue RPAS.

Reps from Transport Canada and NAV Canada were on hand to discuss proposed changes on the regulatory landscape and – always an important part of these gatherings – hear questions and concerns directly from the industry. These open exchanges have long been a hallmark of the annual event.

AEAC Plenary



There was a notable emphasis this year on Indigenous use of drones and other technologies, including a powerful session about detecting unmarked burial sites on the grounds of former residential schools. The concept of data sovereignty – who owns data captured on unceded territories – was also discussed. There was even a presentation on how drones have helped to capture important First Nations cultural events. Plus, of course, the employment and opportunities that RPAS education and initiatives are creating for Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities.

Below, one of the Indigenous panels, moderated by Kristin Kozuback (C)



SAIT‘s Shahab Moeini talked about a program using UAS to detect land mines using AI, machine vision and sensor fusion. Many previous and current efforts have used magnetometers, but these metal-detecting sensors are neither effective nor appropriate given that many land mines are made of plastics and other non-metallic materials. Machine Learning is being used to train drones to recognise the many, many, different types of land mines – even if only a portion of the device is visible above ground.

“Land mines,” said Moeini, “are the nastiest creation of mankind.”

Below: Shahab Moeini, who runs SAIT’S Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS)



Among the many excellent and innovative presentations, one by Spexi Geospatial caught our attention. The Vancouver-based company has built software that allows pilots of micro-drones to automatically fly and capture hexagonal-shaped areas the company calls “Spexigons.” Each Spexigon covers 22 acres and when an adjacent Spexigon is flown the data and imagery are seamlessly connected. With enough Spexigons captured, you’ve got a high-resolution version of Google Earth – and a ton of use-cases for the data.

The Spexi software carries out the flights automatically using DJI sub-250g drones, flying standardized capture missions to produce imagery at scale. The data is uploaded to the cloud where it’s stitched together to form highly detailed images of very large areas with a resolution of 3cm/pixel. (A satellite, by contrast, captures at 30cm/pixel while a standard airplane generally captures at 10cm/pixel.)

During one recent mission, “over 10,000 acres of imagery was captured in three days,” explained Spexi COO Alec Wilson.

“We’ve made it super simple to get images in and out at scale… And we’re super-excited to be able to start building bigger and better platforms for the drone industry.”

Below: Spexi’s Alec Wilson explains how the system works…

Alec Wilson Spexi



This year’s conference saw an increased emphasis on Women in Drones.

Though this has been on the agenda at past events, the 2023 event had somehow a different feel: The recognition that women are not only increasingly entering and shaping this male-dominated sector, but that many are high-level subject matter experts making significant contributions.

While progress has been made, there’s still work to do on the equity front. And there was a strong sense the AEAC is committed to achieving that.

Below: The close of the Women in Drones breakfast

AEAC Women in Drones Breakfast



One of the most memorable parts of any Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference is the awards ceremony. Individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the RPAS industry are nominated, voted for by their peers, and selected for recognition. Recipients range from student engineers (the RPAS CTOs of tomorrow) through to service providers, manufacturers – and even government agencies.

Those honoured at this year’s conference include:

  • Dr. Frederique Pivot: Pip Rudkin Individual Achievement Award
  • Jacob Taylor: 2023 Indigenous Innovation Award
  • National Research Council of Canada Aerospace Research Centre: 2023 Organizational Achievement Award
  • Bryan Kikuta, Toronto Metropolitan University: 2023 Mark Cuss Memorial Scholarship
  • Ana Pereira, University of Victoria: Best Student Oral Presentation Award (judged)
  • Aman Basawanal, Carleton University: Best Student Technical Paper Award (judged)

Below: The National Research Council Team receives its award



There was one more award recipient to whom we’d like to give a special shout-out. It’s Katelin (Kate) Klassen, who received the 2023 Aerial Evolution Ellevatus Award “for her outstanding dedication in uplifting, empowering, and inspiring women in the Canadian RPAS sector.”

Kate is truly a pioneer in this field. A multi-rated private pilot and flight instructor with traditional aircraft, Kate has been a significant force in the drone field for years. She’s an educator (her online courses have trained more than 10,000 pilots), a lobbyist (she’s taken part in multiple consultations with regulators – including being co-chair of the CanaDAC Drone Advisory Committee), and a true advocate for RPAS education. Her knowledge of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) is legendary – and she has inspired and encouraged countless women (and men) in this industry.

Plus, she’s truly an all-round awesome human being – always willing to share her time and expertise. Congratulations, Kate – and all the other winners!

Kate (C) looking justifiably happy…

Kate Ellevatus



Though they didn’t receive any awards, three key members of the Association certainly merit public recognition for their contributions. Jordan Cicoria (CEO of Aerium Analytics) did an outstanding job as Conference Chair. In fact, he’s overseen the last two in-person conferences, while also taking the helm of the virtual gathering during the peak of the pandemic. That’s a *lot* of work, and Jordan has carried out these tasks both professionally and modestly while juggling a plethora of moving parts.

A lot of work on the conference – and elsewhere – came from AEAC Executive Director Declan Sweeney. Declan worked hard behind the scenes (and on countless calls) with sponsors, exhibitors, membership drives – you name it. He’s also deeply involved in the annual student competition. Declan does it all with professionalism, and a great sense of humour.

Equally deserving of recognition is AEAC Chair of the Board Michael Cohen (also the CEO of Qii.AI).

Michael has been serving the Association well, and was key in the transition and rebranding from Unmanned Systems Canada / Systèmes Télécommandés Canada to the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada. This was far more than a name change, but an organizational shift to reflect the coming era of Advanced Air Mobility. He’s been instrumental in the Association’s push toward greater Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – which was reflected in the conference agenda.

The Association also benefits greatly from Michael’s extensive knowledge and background; he’s a former commercial jet pilot – a distinct advantage when discussing the Big Picture (and the minutia) with regulators.

Thank you, all.

Below: Jordan Cicoria (L) with Declan Sweeney, followed by Michael Cohen (R) with Transport Canada’s Ryan Coates

Jordan Declan
Michael Cohen Ryan Coates



As always, we were pleased to participate at the annual Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference. In addition to the sessions, the networking and the trade exhibit – it’s of tremendous value to have the industry and the regulators together for collaborative discussions. There’s been tremendous progress in this sector over the past decade, and much of that is due to regulators truly working with the industry to safely advance RPAS use in Canadian airspace, including BVLOS flight and other more complex operations. Technology that was seen almost as a threat in the early days is now being accepted as a useful – and critical – adjunct to the overall world of aviation.

InDro Robotics staff appeared on multiple panels; CEO and AEAC Board Member Philip Reece, pictured below, took part in the Counter-UAS panel and a live demo of kinetic C-UAS drone at Area X.O‘s Drone and Advanced Robotics Training and Testing (DARTT) facility. (That’s Philip below.)

Philip Reece



We’d be lying if we didn’t tell you that a true highlight for us was seeing Kate Klassen receive the Ellevatus Award.

“One might easily conclude we’re happy simply because Kate is a flight instructor and regulatory expert with InDro Robotics,” says CEO Philip Reece. “But that’s really just a sliver of the truth. Kate’s contributions over the years have been plentiful, significant, and lasting. We’d be applauding this recognition just as loudly even if she didn’t work with InDro.”

We are, however, very happy – and fortunate – that she does.


YOW Drone incident recounted in WINGS magazine

YOW Drone incident recounted in WINGS magazine

By Scott Simmie


If you follow the news from Indro Robotics regularly, you’re likely aware we’re the key technology provider for the YOW Drone Detection Pilot Project.

For several years, we’ve been involved in detecting drones flying in proximity to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. The data is collated into regular reports and shared with partners including Transport Canada, NAV Canada and the RCMP. It has also proven invaluable in assisting YOW with developing protocols for drone incursions and even apprehension of individuals violating RPAS airspace rules.

Among the project highlights we’ve covered in the past:

These stories have been picked up by multiple news outlets in the past, including the Ottawa Citizen, CBC  News, sUASNEWS, DroneDJ – and many more. In fact, here’s one those CBC pieces, covering the drone detection used during President Joe Biden’s visit:




The data obtained during that December 2022 incursion is highly detailed. In fact, it offers a moment-by-moment description of how the flights went down (and up), along with how YOW authorities responded to the event. You can find the WINGS article online here, but we’ve also pasted it below for your convenience.

Apologies for the split headline, but this was a double-truck page.




We’re grateful to WINGS Magazine Editor Jon Robinson for amplifying our YOW drone incursion story. The more that incidents like these are publicised, it’s reasonable to assume that fewer will occur as people learn more about the regulations and penalties.

It’s also clear, as was demonstrated at the 2023 Aerial Evolution Association of Canada conference, that drone mitigation technology continues to improve. During the event, there was a demonstration of a drone that can track down and disable a rogue RPAS with the kinetic firing of a net. (Radio Frequency jamming is not permitted under Industry Canada rules except in extraordinary circumstances.)

“We’re pleased to see that this story is still making the rounds, and hopefully educating drone operators who may be unfamiliar with the rules and penalties,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.  

“But we’re even more pleased to see that incidents such as these are relatively rare. The YOW Drone Detection Pilot Project has captured very valuable data over the years – and continues to do so.”

Interested in drone detection and mitigation solutions for your airport, stadium or other sensitive asset? InDro subsidiary Bravo Zulu has multiple options and can be contacted here

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

Elroy Air’s Chaparral brings long-range, heavy lift cargo solution

By Scott Simmie


Some history has just been made in the world of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

On November 12, Elroy Air successfully flew its Chaparral C1 – the first flight of a turbogenerator-hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (hVTOL) aircraft. The hover test of the full-scale aircraft took place at the company’s test-flight facility in Byron, California.

It’s an important milestone as the world moves toward the AAM era, when new and transformative aircraft will move goods and people to destinations that would have been impractical or too expensive using traditional aircraft.

“This is an exhilarating day for our team and the industry as a whole,” says Elroy Air co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill.

There are plenty of companies competing for this new space with innovative autonomous designs. Some are designed to carry people, cargo, or both. There are several excellent designs out there, but Elroy Air’s Chaparral C1 has been on our radar for reasons you’re about to discover.

Before we get into the history, though, let’s get straight to the news. Here’s a video of the test flight:



Check out the Chaparral C1 on the ground. Take a good look, as we’ll be discussing these features.

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Let’s get into why this aircraft will fill a niche.

It’s been designed to move large payloads long distances – and do so efficiently. Humanitarian aid, military resupply and middle-mile logistics are all perfect use-cases for the Chaparral. Its sole purpose is to move significant amounts of cargo efficiently – and be ready for the return trip in minutes.

Here’s the one-floor elevator pitch:

“We’re building an aircraft that will be able to fly 300 miles (483 km) and carry 300 pounds (136 kg) of cargo,” explains Jason Chow, the company’s Director of Strategy and Business Development.

“It’s VTOL, so we don’t need runways. It’s also hybrid electric, so in many situations where there are remote areas, we’re still able to fly where electric power is unavailable.”

Hybrid electric makes sense when you’re after this kind of range, since the craft benefits from the energy density of jet fuel.

“A turboshaft engine powers the batteries, and the batteries power flight,” says Chow.

“One of the most intensive parts of flight is the takeoff portion, where you’re vertically flying upwards. And once you get into forward flight, the turbine is able to throttle back to meet the reduced demand while maintaining battery charge.”

As you can see from the photo, there are eight motors for vertical lift and four for forward propulsion. Once the craft transitions into forward flight, its fixed-wing design brings greater efficiency and range than would be possible with a traditional multi-rotor (which don’t generally have lifting surfaces aside from the rotors themselves).

But while all this looks great, Chaparral’s real secret sauce is its cargo capabilities – which have been designed, literally, from the ground up.

Take a look again at the photo above. Note the design of the wheel struts, as well as the ample space between the bottom of the fuselage and the ground. That’s all for a very specific reason: Chaparral has been designed to carry an aerodynamic, quickly-swappable cargo pod.

Have a look:


Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



Chow says the system is comparable to a tractor-trailer. On a road, the tractor provides the power to move the goods. In the air, “the trailer is the equivalent of the cargo pod. We imagine customers will have multiple cargo pods.”

Those pods can be quickly interchanged on the ground – because the Chaparral’s autonomy abilities aren’t limited to flight. The aircraft can taxi to a predetermined location, lower and disengage a cargo pod, then reposition itself and pick up the next one. You can imagine the advantage of such a system when transporting food or critical medical supplies in an emergency situation. This isn’t simply an aircraft: It’s a delivery system.

It’s also worth noting that the pod has been designed to be compatible with existing infrastructure and tools such as forklifts. As the Elroy Air website explains:

The Palletized Pod uses a fairing-on-pallet design to ease loading of heavy cargo. This configuration features a standardized L-Track system for securing shipments, ensuring simple loading and safe travel for hefty items.”

Below: The Chaparral C1 with the pod snugged up and ready for business…

Elroy Air Chaparral AAM



So, will Elroy Air be a service provider, overseeing autonomous flights for clients? Or will it be producing the Chaparral to be sold to clients who will operate it themselves?

“The current thinking is that we would do both,” explains Chow. “There are a lot of our partners that are very good at operating aircraft: FedEx, Bristow, the United States Air Force. The main thing they do is operate aircraft really well. So in those situations we would sell to them only as the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).”

“But we also have customers who are interested in what we can provide. So in those situations we could provide the service ourselves or rely on very experienced operators.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



Producing an aircraft of this scale – it has a wingspan of 26.3 feet (8.01 metres) and a length of 19.3 feet (5.88 metres) – is no small task. Elroy Air made the decision early on that the most efficient approach would be as a highly selective and meticulous integrator. So its composite fuselage, for example, is outsourced.

“There are folks in the general Advanced Air Mobility industry that are building everything in-house. That’s great, you can own the IP (Intellectual Property) for everything,” says Chow.

“That being said, it takes longer. So our approach has been to be an integrator. We source the best parts to help us get to market – including the generator.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



There are a lot of startups in this space, including plenty of newcomers. Elroy Air was formed back in 2016 in San Francisco by Dave Merrill (now CEO) and Clint Cope (Chief Product Officer).

By 2018 the company flight-tested sub-scale Chaparral aircraft and user-tested its automated cargo‑handling systems. The following year it had established a relationship (and contract) with the United States Air Force “enabling Elroy Air to understand and inform the USAF’s operational needs for distributed aerial logistics in contested environments. We developed our custom simulation environment for Chaparral aircraft and ran a successful flight test campaign on an early 1200‑pound, full-scale Chaparral prototype outfitted with an all-electric powertrain.”

The milestones have kept coming. The year 2020 brought refinements to its simulation system, allowing the team to carry out thousands of virtual flights and ground/cargo mission experiments. Development began in earnest that same year on the hybrid-electric powertrain, including multiple turboshaft engine runs.

A Series A financing in 2021 brought in partners Lockheed Martin, Prosperity7 and Marlinspike, who came to the table with $40M. In 2022 an additional $36M in capital arrived, and the company unveiled its C1-1 Chaparral to the public. (The aircraft also made it to the cover of Aviation Week.)

It’s been a careful, methodical journey that has brought the company this far – and it clearly has ambitious plans for the future. If you’d like to read about these milestones in greater detail, you’ll find a company timeline here

But the biggest milestone so far? The flight that opened this story.

“This marks a major moment for the industry as hybrid-electric aircraft enable the dual benefits of runway-independent safe redundant propulsion, and long-range flight well in excess of battery power alone,” says co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill. 

“Our accomplishment puts Elroy Air one step closer to delivering a transformative logistics capability to our customers and partners.”

Elroy Air Chaparral Test Flight



We at InDro obviously have a stake in the future of Advanced Air Mobility. We know from our own work in this field of the pent-up demand for efficient VTOL aircraft that can safely shuttle critical cargo – whether across major cities or to isolated communities lacking runways.

We’ve also been watching, with interest, the companies that are vying for space in this coming market.

“From everything we’ve seen, Chaparral is going to be a perfect fit,” says InDro Robotics President Philip Reece. “It’s cargo capacity and range will really fill a void, and the pod system – complete with its autonomous coupling and decoupling feature – will be hugely advantageous. We congratulate Elroy Air on this milestone, and look forward to seeing a transition flight before long.”

As with all new aircraft, it will take time before certification takes place and the FAA gives Elroy Air its full blessings. We’re confident that not only will that day come – but that Elroy Air and Chaparral will play a significant role in the era of Advanced Air Mobility.

All images supplied with permission by Elroy Air

Engineers put skills to the test in F1tenth autonomous challenge

Engineers put skills to the test in F1tenth autonomous challenge

By Scott Simmie


Want to win a scale model car race?

Normally you’d pimp your ride, slam the throttle to the max, and do your best at the steering control to overtake any opponents while staying on the track.

Now imagine a race where no one is controlling the car remotely. Where, in fact, the car is driving itself  – using sensors and algorithms to detect the course, avoid obstacles, and look continuously for the most efficient path to the finish line.

That’s the concept of F1TENTH, a regular competition held at major robotics conferences. The latest contest was carried out in Detroit at IROS 2023, the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. The contest brings together researchers, engineers, and autonomous systems enthusiasts.

“It’s about Formula racing, but on a smaller scale – and it’s autonomous,” explains Hongrui (Billy) Zheng, a University of Pennsylvania PhD in electrical engineering, and a key organizer of the F1TENTH series.

And what does it take to win?

“I would say 90 per cent software, and 10 per cent hardware,” says Zheng.

And that means it’s more about brainpower than horsepower.

Before we dive in, check out one of the cars below:




To keep things truly competitive, all teams begin with the same basic platform. They can either build that platform, based on the build guides at, or purchase the platform. The price of the vehicle, which this year incorporated a 2D LiDAR unit (which makes up the bulk of the cost), is about $2500-$2800 US.

“I would say 60 per cent is spent on the LiDAR,” says Zheng. “Some teams use a camera only, and that drives it down to around $1000.”

So it’s a lot more accessible – and a lot safer – than real Formula 1. And instead of high octane fuel, the teams are more concerned with powerful algorithms.

Once again, the basic Open-source Robot Operating System autonomy and obstacle avoidance software is part of the basic package that all teams start out with. But just as real F1 teams work together to extract every ounce of performance, so too do the F1TENTH teams, which usually represent universities but are occasionally sponsored by companies. At this year’s competition six of the nine teams were from universities.

The F1TENTH organization says there are four pillars to its overall mission. Here they are, taken directly:

1. Build – We designed and maintain the F1TENTH Autonomous Vehicle System, a powerful and versatile open-source platform for autonomous systems research and education.

2. Learn – We create courses that teach the foundations of autonomy but also emphasize the analytical skills to recognize and reason about situations with moral content in the design of autonomous.

3. Race – We bring our international community together by holding a number of autonomous race car competitions each year where teams from all around the world gather to compete.

4. Research – Our platform is powerful and versatile enough to be used for a variety of research that includes and is not limited to autonomous racing, reinforcement learning, robotics, communication systems, and much more.

In other words, there are real-world applications to all of this. Plus, for engineers, it’s not that difficult to dive in.

“The entire project is Open Source,” explains competitor Po-Jen Wang, a computer engineer from the University of California Santa Cruz. “It uses a Jetson Xavier (for compute). And for perception it uses a Hokuyo 2D LiDAR. Some people will mount a camera for computer vision. You can make it by yourself – it’s very easy to make.”

The following video provides a good introduction to the competition. In actual races, a piece of cardboard – sometimes modified for aerodynamics – is affixed to the rear of the car. These are to aid other vehicles on the track with obstacle avoidance.




Okay. So you’ve got your basic build, along with the basic ROS software.

Now it’s time to get to work. Engineers will add or modify algorithms for obstacle avoidance, acceleration, braking – as well as for determining the most efficient and optimal path. Depending on their approach, some teams will plot waypoints for the specific course.

Of course, like a real F1 race, a lot of modifications take place once teams are at the track. But in the case of F1tenth, those alterations tend to be code (though we’ll get to mechanical changes in a moment). Of course, scrolling through endless lines of programming isn’t the most efficient way to detect and eliminate bugs or improve efficiency. This is particularly true since multiple types of software are involved.

“There is software for SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) for the mapping part, there’s software for localisation, there’s software for basic tracking if you give it a waypoint,” says organizer Billy Zheng. “Some of the basic drivers are found in a repository on Github.

“Most of the good teams are very consistent, and most of the consistent ones use mappingand localisation. The second place winner this year was using a reactive method – you just drop it and it will work.”

With all those moving parts, many teams use a dashboard that displays multiple parameters in real-time as the car moves down the track. This allows them to more rapidly nail down areas where performance can be optimised.

“The good teams usually have a better visualisation setup, so it’s easier to debug what’s going on,” adds Zheng. “The good teams are using Foxglove – a spinoff from an autonomous driving company that created a dashboard for ROS.”

To get a better idea of what the engineers are seeing trackside, here’s a look at Foxglove in action during F1TENTH.



Though it’s 90 per cent about code, that’s not all.

“Some modify their vehicles in different ways, maybe make it more aerodynamic, change the wheels,” explains competitor Tejas Agarwal, a graduate of uPenn with a Masters in Robotics. Agarwal and Po-Jen Wang were both contracted by Japanese self-driving software company/foundation Autoware.

(As it turned out, Wang and Agarwal placed second and third, respectively.)

The wheels on the stock vehicles are more suited to pavement and dirt rather than indoors tracks, so wheels are a common modification. But this year’s winning team, from Université Laval, took it further.

“We lowered the centre of mass as much as possible, changed the wheels, and changed our motor for better control,” says Laval team leader Jean-Michel Fortin, a PhD student in computer science specialising in robotics.

Of course, they weren’t allowed to increase the power of the motor in order to keep things on an even playing field. But they wanted one that offered greater control at lower speeds.

“Usually at low speeds the (stock) motor is bad, so we changed that for a sensor equipped motor,” says Fortin.

“We also replaced our suspension because it was too soft. As soon as we were braking our LiDAR wasn’t seeing what it should. For the software part, we tuned everything to the maximum that we could. We also optimised the race line to make sure the race line that we predict is as close to what the car can do as possible.”

And it paid off. The Laval team, pictured below, was clearly in a celebratory mood after winning (Jean-Michel Fortin in centre). Following is second-place winner Po-Jen Wang, third-place winner Tejas Agarwal and organizer Billy Zheng.


Laval F1tenth
Po-Jen F1tenth
Billy F1tenth



Competitions – particularly ones like this one – are highly useful. They foster collaborative teams and encourage innovative thinking. Plus, they’re just plain fun.

“F1TENTH is a tremendous initiative and a really great challenge for young engineers and autonomy enthusiasts,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “Those participating today could well be leaders in the autonomy sector tomorrow. We congratulate all who took part, with a special nod to the top three. Well done!”

Is there a similar engineering challenge you think is worth some words from us? Feel free to contact InDro’s Chief of Content Scott Simmie here.

And, if you’re a competitor beginning a job search, feel free to drop us a line with your resume here. InDro Robotics is Canada’s leading R&D aerial and ground robotics company and in a current phase of scaling. We’re always on the lookout to expand our talented and diverse engineering team.

Indro Robotics takes in IROS 2023 in Detroit

Indro Robotics takes in IROS 2023 in Detroit

By Scott Simmie


One of the most important gatherings in the field of robotics is underway in Detroit.

It’s the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, or IROS 2023. And InDro Robotics is there.

“IROS is kind of an open forum to discuss research in the fields of mobile robotics, manipulation and so much more,” says Account Executive Luke Corbeth. “It gives researchers the ability to collaborate with each other, as well as industry, through the exhibits.”

Or, as the conference describes itself: “IROS is a large and impactful forum for the international robotics research community to explore the frontier of science and technology in intelligent robots and smart machines, emphasising future directions and the latest approaches, designs and outcomes.”

There’s plenty to see (and learn). You’ll find robotic arms and hands – some with incredible dexterity. There are quadrupeds, bipeds, specialised sensors – even a race course where teams put small but fast autonomous racers against one another. Plus, of course, scores of seminars and poster exhibits highlighting new and important research in fields ranging from AI to remote microsurgery.

“Everyone who is working on the cutting edge of robotics comes to IROS to present their research,” says Corbeth.

Some of the best minds in the field – including Masters and PhD students from many parts of the world – come to learn, network and share. Even Amazon is here, specifically to hire people to design, build and operate new robots for its warehouses. So too is the Honda Research Institute.



Though IROS stands for Intelligent Robots and Systems, “ROS” has another relevant meaning. In the industry, it stands for Robot Operating System. As describes it, ROS “is a set of software libraries and tools that help you build robot applications.”

These libraries and developer tools include state-of-the-art Open Source algorithms that are shared with developers around the planet. The original toolkit is known as ROS1, while the newer ROS2 has more robust security protocols and is being embraced at the corporate and industrial levels.

“Generally what is being built here is being built on ROS,” explains InDro Vice President Peter King. He goes on to explain that you can think of ROS as a facilitator that brings all the different parts of a robot – including different sensors and coding – together.

“ROS is language-agnostic,” says King. “You can bring in Python, you can bring in C++, you can bring in other sensors. ROS allows all of the packages to talk to each other.”

In some ways, that’s also what InDro Robotics does. As both a research and development company and an integrator, InDro frequently brings together disparate parts for a common purpose – most often, for special projects for clients.

“Everybody here is actually the perfect client for InDro,” says King. 

“Imagine you were studying autonomy and perception and you’re going to do this in ROS. These students and universities don’t have the budget or hardware or time to build what they need. So we can build a custom robot, generally outfitted with InDro Commander, so they can focus on simply coding their project.”

“It’s a very big international community – which I was not expecting,” adds Account Executive Amanda Gloor. “Plus, it’s great to see people showcasing technology from all over the world. One of the cooler things I saw was a robot that climbs storage tanks using magnets – then uses non-destructive testing to detect corrosion.”

Below: InDro Account Executive Amanda Gloor gets the Unitree GO2, which InDro distributes, to take a leap



If you’ve got the time (and the brains), the rotating poster exhibits are fascinating to dip into. There are some 1200 exhibitors either displaying their research or holding seminars. Some of that research could be the Next Big Thing, or a significant incremental advance that will be utilised in other applications.

A quick spin through just a few of the exhibits, during a session devoted to healthcare, revealed the following topics:

  • A shared autonomous nursing robot assistant with dynamic workspace for versatile mobile manipulation
  • Magnetic, modular, undulatory robot: Exploring fish-inspired swimming for advanced underwater locomotion and robotics
  • Contactless weight estimation of human body and body parts for safe robotics-assisted casualty extraction

As you can see, some are highly specialised. Now think of hundreds (and hundreds) of such research papers, each making a small (or even large) contribution to pushing the robotics envelope. That’s IROS.

But while such important niche research was in abundance, there was also a sense that the Big Picture moving forward involves AI. While that’s always been a part of the robotics world, recent advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and machine vision took centre stage. Many of the keynotes – and smaller learning sessions – focussed on AI.

Wednesday’s plenary session, for example, was “Merging Paths: The shared history and convergent future of AI and Robotics.” One of the keynotes was “Deep predictive learning in Robotics: Optimizing models for adaptive perception and action” – followed by: “Empowering robots with continuous space and time representations.” Those are in addition to scores of separate sessions during the conference with an emphasis on AI. 

Instead of robots simply being aware of their surroundings and tasks, we appear to be heading into a world where these machines more fully understand the world around them, and make decisions based on that understanding. And that feels like a very big deal.





There are always conferences going on in the robotics and UAV sectors. We could choose to attend all of them, but we tend to be selective.

For the academic and R&D world, IROS is the venue where we can learn about the latest cutting-edge research and technology – and display our own innovations (such as our new ROS-based indoor UAV, which has been gaining a lot of attention). So it’s good to be here again.

“The unique thing about InDro is our ability to have a conversation with virtually everyone at this conference,” says Luke Corbeth. “Given the scope of our work – whether it’s a new platform, or sensors, integration or production, there’s always some way we can be of value to those across the R&D community.”

It’s also a great place to meet the next generation of engineers and other specialists, some of whom may one day join the growing InDro team. 

TCXpo brings Smart Mobility exhibit to Ottawa’s Area X.O

TCXpo brings Smart Mobility exhibit to Ottawa’s Area X.O

By Scott Simmie


Canada’s largest Smart Mobility exhibit and demonstration took place in Ottawa September 27.

It was the second time the annual event has taken place. It brought hundreds of attendees – and more than 75 companies – to Area X.O, an innovation hub where leading Smart Mobility companies carry out research and development. The facility features a private 5G network and private roads, allowing companies to test and harden robots, drones, autonomous passenger-carrying vehicles, and more.

Sponsored by Transport Canada (that’s the “TC” in “TCXpo”), along with Invest Ottawa and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the event showcases innovations in the smart mobility space. Think the latest and greatest robots, drones, self-driving vehicles – along with a plethora of hardware and software associated with the sector.

“Today, we will celebrate Canadian innovation,” said Sonya Shorey, Vice President Strategy, Marketing and Communications of Invest Ottawa as she opened the show.

“Companies driving the smart mobility revolution. Innovators developing and commercializing multidisciplinary solutions to grand challenges and market opportunities. These innovations span every sector – from intelligent transportation to defence, public safety, security, aerospace, environment, smart agriculture, and telecommunications. And they are being developed by Canadian leaders.”

As Michael Tremblay, President and CEO of Invest Ottawa, Area X.O and Bayview Yards, put it: “We’ve got incredible capability right across the country.”

Below: Michael Tremblay at the opening of TCXpo



Michael Tremblay Invest Ottawa



One of the highlights of the show was the new Drone and Advanced Robotics Training and Testing facility, also known as DARTT. Built to the demanding criteria of the US-based National Institute of Standards and Training (NIST), DARTT is designed for evidence-based evaluation of drones over a variety of surfaces (including sand, gravel and water) and obstacles (including a variable incline ramp). There’s also a netted enclosure for flying experimental drones or assessing new payloads and failsafe features in a safe environment.

InDro’s Luke Corbeth hosted tours of DARTT, allowing spectators to take control of various robots and operate them over obstacles. Here, he explains the basics of the facility:



InDro also publicly unveiled one of its newest innovations: The Street Smart Robot, or SSR.

Built with the support of the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), led by the Ontario Centre of Innovation, the SSR will be monitoring bicycle paths in Ottawa this winter to detect snow, ice, potholes and debris that might impact the safety of cyclists. When those anomalies are detected, they’ll be flagged to road and maintenance crews at the City of Ottawa so they can be remediated.

Initially, the SSR will be remotely teleoperated by a human being who will have real-time situational awareness of all surroundings. The eventual goal is for the SSR to operate autonomously, with AI flagging problems so they can be sent up the chain.

Here’s a peek at the Street Smart Robot:

Street Smart Robot



With more than 75 companies (and an estimated 1200 attendees) at TCXpo, there was no shortage of things to see and demonstrations to watch. Some of the highlights of the day included seeing:

  • The Skygauge drone, a unique design purpose-built for non-destructive testing, carrying out a demo flight. Its NDT probe was delicately placed against a pole while in flight, mimicking the routine carried for testing of metal tanks, coatings, etc.
  • The Wingtra drone, carrying out a flawless demo mission. The fixed-wing, two-motor VTOL is capable of transitioning to fixed-wing forward flight from hover, giving it great range and efficiency
  • A driverless tractor carrying out a circuit on a field, with commands sent remotely from a phone. Such devices will be common in the Smart Farms of the near future

Plenty of things caught our eye, including a remotely operated hang-glider (low cost, long range, high payload). There was a new Nokia dock system, allowing for automated flights in remote locations. The system recharges the drone, checks all systems, while maintaining a safe harbour from inclement weather – perfect for regular inspections in remote locations. There was even a US startup that has developed a system that will automatically lower car windows if you happen to plunge your vehicle into water.

We’ve gathered a few pix of the above – and more – which you’ll see in the gallery below:



The first TCXpo – despite the rain – was great. This one was bigger and better – and the weather was perfect. The demonstrations and exhibits collectively made it clear: Smart Mobility is coming.

“Part of the growth between the inaugural TCXpo and this display was due to word of mouth,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “But part of the equation is that the industry itself is growing at a rapid pace. The world of Smart Mobility may not have yet arrived, but you can definitely see it’s on its way.”

Finally, a tip of the hat to Transport Canada, ISED, Invest Ottawa and Area X.O. Those kudos aren’t just for putting on a great show – but also for having to vision to realize that this sector will create jobs, improve safety and contribute to greater efficiency in the not-so-distant future.