Change Under Way in UAV Marketplace

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  • Author: Scott L. Spencer Publisher
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s North America (AUVSI) trade show held in Las Vegas last month showcased an increasingly diverse collection of unmanned vehicular technology. The event kicked off just as NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, highlighting an alternate use of unmanned vehicles in stark contrast to the Predator strikes we are used to hearing about. In the past this event was all about the latest in wartime technology. It was where aerospace companies met with weapons buyers, and where the newest robotic tools for combat missions were on display. With combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, accompanied by a trimming of the Pentagon’s budget, much of that is changing. After a decade of explosive growth, largely tied to the post-Sept. 11 demand from the military for unmanned vehicles, the industry is eagerly awaiting the opening of a new frontier. The domestic drone market will likely provide it. Earlier this year Congress passed and the President signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that would open the domestic skies by 2015 to private, military and commercial drones for activities as diverse as law enforcement activities, monitoring of oil, gas and water pipelines by utility companies, and agricultural applications such spraying of pesticides and crop monitoring. Use of these vehicles is envisioned for just about every scenario where the environment is too dirty, too dangerous, or just too dull for human activity.