Record-Breaking Attendance at the Fifth Annual B2B

Posted: Sep 28 2017
Following the annual kickoff of the Norsk Høstfest, the 2017 Business to Business Seminar (B2B) expanded on the Scandinavian-Midwest partnership by taking a close look at the shared business opportunities and developing innovations. With great success and spiked interest from last year’s B2B, this year’s event focused further on the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) industry and the complex technology behind this evolving industry.
Welcoming different organizations from the UAS value chain, this year’s B2B panel featured the following keynote speakers:Bjorn.JPG
The event opened with Chuck Barney, Mayor of Minot and Director of the Severson Entrepreneurship Academy, Minot State University, who welcomed the audience and explained how last year’s B2B cultivated a unique opportunity for Minot leadership. Shortly after the 2016 B2B, Minot leaders were invited to attend a UAS Summit in Norway, which consequently led to business meetings with eSmart and Robot Aviation. This special opportunity helped drive the foundation of this year’s B2B and the potential for the Midwest to further develop in UAS.
The 2017 B2B featured a combination of leaders within the UAS industry, starting off with Bjorn Forsdal, President of Robot Aviation USA, who represents the manufacturing side of UAS. Robot Aviation, founded in Norway, is at the forefront of commercial drone technology with more than 20 years of experience in developing and operating advanced unmanned aircraft systems for defense and the civilian sector. Robot Aviation’s goal is to provide superior performance UAS, adapted to customer needs that is cost efficient, safe, and easy to operate. Forsdal was the first employee of Robot Aviation sent to the U.S., where they now have offices in Grand Forks, ND and Phoenix, AZ. Robot Aviation’s niche role in the industry involves industrial applications, bridging the digital and material worlds, and integrating solutions tailored for each industry. Robot Aviation develops drones for industrial applications and believes in increasing operational effectiveness and decreasing operational costs for its customers. Robot Aviation’s integrated solutions, tailored for each industry, will enable better and faster decision making, increased awareness, decreased downtime, and other positive outcomes. Forsdal elaborated on Robot Aviation’s product portfolio, solutions, use cases, opportunities, and more. He also discussed recent developments and Robot Aviation’s high valued network, including eSmart, Microsoft, and SkySkopes. “We are both great nations and now we work together. We expand with each other and facilitate that soft landing. That is what bridging the Atlantic is all about; we are two strong, great nations, that have found a common space, and we help each other build communities and bring industries forward. And that is high appreciation for what Minot is doing here, it’s nothing short than amazing, you are creating opportunities for the UAS industry.” Forsdal explained how the Minot Area Development Corporation’s outreach efforts make it possible for companies like Robot Aviation to enter the region and the opportunities to meet with potential customers. 
In addition to drone manufacturing, another key component of the UAS industry is the data collection and processing side. Knut E. Gustavsen, CVP & President North America of eSmart Systems, discussed the numerous aspects and importance of data collection. eSmart Systems, headquartered in Norway, provides a digital platform for intelligent grid operations. It is based on Microsoft Azure, a top layer system that utilizes internal data sources enriched with external data.  Gustavsen explained eSmart’s newest product, Thundercloud. Thundercloud contains the best tools for analysis, visualization, and communication. It consists of six components; Connected Grid, Connected Drone, Broadband Radio Communication, Sensor Package, UAVs and the Mobile Operational Center. Thundercloud includes world class technology that ensures stable communication under all circumstances, even when data service is down. Thundercloud was recently relied on during Hurricane Irma, a prime use-case example. Gustavsen explained the various components of UAS data analytics and how eSmart has a role. Beginning with a planned mission, eSmart takes information from its GIS system, deploys it into a drone system, uploads that system into a drone, and then executes the mission. Then, eSmart will monitor and provide actionable data in real-time to its customers. Gustavsen further discussed the analytical side of the UAS industry and the potential for the U.S.  “Coming to the Midwest, everyone knows where Norway is. It’s a very friendly, open, and inviting business environment. It’s a fantastic soft landing spot and starting ground for businesses,” explained Gustavsen, who plans to deliver that message when he returns to Norway.
Mark.JPGThe other panelist for this year’s B2B represented the end users for the UAS industry. Mark Nisbet, Principal Manager, North Dakota of Xcel Energy, shared Xcel’s overview and involvement with UAS. Xcel Energy’s mission is to provide customers with safe, clean, reliable energy services they want and value at a competitive price. With over $11 billion in revenues and 12,300 employees in the U.S., Xcel Energy has proven that drones enhance public and worker safety, save time, and provide exceptional data. Xcel Energy established a UAS Initiative beginning in 2013, where they began indoor experiments, to currently being a utility leader for Beyond Visual Line of Sight Development (BVLOS). Xcel Energy uses drones for infrastructure inspections, post storm assessments, and more. Nisbet explained how Xcel Energy still utilizes talent from Norway and Isreal when it comes to the UAS industry. These countries offer advancements that the U.S. is still striving to reach, coinciding with the importance of the B2B, which provides the opportunity to collaborate and foster business opportunities/partnerships on an international level.
Lastly, this year’s event concluded with the presentation of Dr. Mark Hagerott, Chancellor of the North Dakota University System. Chancellor Hagerott explained a new realm, a realm of intelligence, and how it’s changing the world. He discussed the macro-revolution involving artificial intelligence and touched on the challenges it brings. He broke down the different realms as follows:
  1. Human-Natural Realm
  2. Integrated Human-Machine Realm
  3. Machine Realm (where UAS falls)
The Chancellor touched on the motive force, a desire to better “Sense-Think-Act.” This new realm is shifting the world and he stressed the importance of looking at long term evidence and historical trends in technology. UAS is a major component to the third realm. Entrepreneurial outlooks, such as SkySkopes, will take UAS to new heights and ND has a significant role with precision ag, energy, infrastructure, and military. Chancellor Hagerott stressed that with the emerging UAS industry, comes a new set of challenges and disruption. Law and policy must demarcate between and within realms, a huge challenge, yet also opportunity for the need to create, control, and civilize. Chancellor Hagerott shared the University System’s strategy and efforts for preparing a qualified workforce for the UAS industry.
With over 75 attendees, this year’s event had record-breaking attendance and covered the different UAS applications, and potential business opportunities for North Dakota. Hosted by the Minot Area Development Corporation and Minot State University, this year’s B2B was moderated by Dr. Jacek Mrozik, Associate Vice President, Minot State University.