Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine Nov 2012
On platforms and tables in a Las Vegas conference room, little machines crawled and jumped, floated and sank, and zoomed across the air-conditioned airspace. The variety of robots and potential robot buyers at the annual gathering of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International last August indicates the changes that have taken place in the industry. Back in 1973, at AUVSI’s first meeting, there were only a handful of exhibitors and the only drone customer was the U.S. military, looking for small, agile, pilot-free aircraft it could risk sending across enemy lines.
This year, AUVSI made space for 572 exhibitors, most with a cadre of drone models—some hover quietly over a target, others disassemble on command, at least one looks like a flying garbage disposal—and they’re starting to move off the battlefield. In preparation for potential Pentagon budget cutbacks, the unmanned aerial vehicle industry is eager to shift to civilian markets, and, after years of silence on the subject, Congress last February ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open the skies to drones by September 2015. Although there are many hurdles to cross between now and then, I came away from the AUVSI conference with this much: Pilots, you’ve got steely-eyed competition.