A slate of new initiatives are underway to help accelerate the already strong growth of the unmanned systems industry while addressing long term challenges. Kicking off the 37th annual Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference on Tuesday, AUVSI CEO Michael Toscano said the organization going forward will focus on interoperability, cost-benefit analysis capability, public awareness and "recognizing opportunities for civil and commercial markets."

The industry is growing despite several years of economic woes facing other sectors of industry, particularly aerospace. AUVSI board chairman John Lambert said there are more than 2,000 unmanned air systems (UAS) deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 7,000 unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) at work in military operations. This includes 45 UAS, including two Global Hawks, that are constantly airborne on combat air patrol duty and US Customs and Border Patrol Predators that have flown almost 7,000h on border patrol since 2005 and aided in the seizure of almost 40,000lbs (18,000kg) of marijuana.

On the civil side, there were approximately 1 million industrial robots in operation globally at the end of 2009, and on the home front, more than 4 million automated vacuum cleaners have been sold to date. Lambert says GM predicts it will be selling "driverless" cars by 2015, a year when forecasts call for a $15 billion unmanned market.

While challenges to short-term growth in the UAS sector are closely tied to airspace access, an issue AUVSI is working with a variety of agencies, longer term progress, at least in the US, could be hindered by workforce.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, speaking at the opening ceremony, noted that the US, and Colorado as well, has a 25% drop-out rate from high school, a problem he said is "not tolerable." The state has had an ongoing effort since Ritter took office in 2006 to cut that percentage in half by 2016. "What we invent makes us competitive," says Ritter. "As we looked at issue of innovation and creation, it all came back to education." He noted that organizations like AUVSI, which is heavily involved in student robotic competitions, are key to helping spur interest in science, technology and engineering studies.


Source: Flight Daily News