New Conference In JHB: DroneCon Reveals How Drones Are Changing The Way We Gather Information

Heavy Chef's CEO Fred Roed spoke to Sean Reitz, serial entrepreneur, drone fanatic and co-founder of DroneCon, to find out about the upcoming conference, what it's all about and why we should be excited about it. Sean was also a panelist at last year's Heavy Chef event focusing on Drone Tech (excerpt: "I'm in the most exciting field in the world") and he's the CEO at United Drone Holdings. It's safe to say that Sean knows a thing or two about drones. 

Sean, to kick things off, what is DroneCon all about?

DroneCon is a 3-day commercial drone conference taking place from the 16th to the 18th May at Vodacom World Conference centre. 40 speakers from South Africa and around the World will share their knowledge and help to develop the commercial drone industry in Southern Africa. Regulation, training and operations will be covered in addition to business development and technology talks. BVLOS ( beyond visual line of sight) is a key focus area as it is this capability that really opens up the business case and capability of drone technology. Dr Roelof Botha will also deliver the 2018 Economic Impact study which will define the market size and growth projections. Last year his research indicated a market of around R2 Billion and a job opportunity of more than 26000, which is a lot!

Why do we need another conference? - are drones really all that important, or is it not the domain of overzealous vloggers?

Drones are here to stay and are changing the way that industry gathers information on a daily basis. They are becoming commonplace in mining operations, modern farming, security operations and old-fashioned movie-making. The conference is important because the average person doesn’t clearly understand what’s required to fly a drone commercially and even less know how regulated the industry is. It can be “higher grade” getting a drone business moving and because it’s still in early phase it’s still quite messy!

So, when are going to get flying cars in Benoni?

Not sure when they will be in Benoni, but I’m convinced you will find them operating in Dubai or California within the next 5 years. South Africa is heavily regulated and moving people is going to take some regulatory changes. UBER has an RFI (Request For Information) out in the States and full-scale prototypes are flying today!

What exciting companies are there here in SA that focus on drones - what do they do?

The industry is so diverse that it really depends on which segment you operate in. One of the exciting local companies is a Knysna-based manufacturer by the name of Alti UAS. They produce a “world class” aircraft capable of taking off and landing vertically with up to 10 hours of flying time. Each segment has an exciting company wanting to play there, but at present there are only 23 approved operators that can legally offer commercial drone services. 

Internationally, who's doing the most exciting stuff?

DJI from China has a 70%+ worldwide market share in small to medium drones and they are driving the technology at an astounding rate, think cell phones in terms of drone functional lifespan, but I would have to say that Intel’s Swarm technology is just amazing. They can create “firework type” displays with up to 1000 drones flying independently to create images in the sky. No issue for Fido!

Self-driving cars are under scrutiny now, after Tesla had its fatal crash recently. Have there been any dangerous accidents involving drones?

Safety is a major concern for CAA regulators around the world but fortunately, in the civilian commercial space, there have been no serious accidents or fatalities that I know of. At this stage, it’s more a perceived risk based on “what if’s” rather than real accidents. The big challenge is that there are an estimated 40 000 plus drones in South Africa, so it’s a major challenge to ensure that those flying them do so responsibly. Air safety is massively important and none of us want our flight from Cape Town to Joey’s crashing into a drone on takeoff or landing!

What super amazing things can we expect at DroneCon this year?

Super amazing must include the international speakers, Intel from the USA will be exhibiting and speaking, as will Unifly from Holland. Deloitte will also be presenting and I’m excited to hear what Dr Botha has calculated in his economic market study. There are about 40 speakers so it’s an absolute must for anyone interested in using drones or working in the industry to attend. This is an exciting industry with lots of opportunities and massive growth!

Where / how can we buy tickets? Tickets are available on the DroneCon website, and cost R2500 for the 3-day event including a cocktail function and lunch. You can enquire by emailing

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