The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International turned the Mandalay Bay Convention Center into a robotics playground 6-9 August, when it brought together the largest display of unmanned systems and robotics technology in the world. With more than 550 exhibitors and 7,400 attendees, AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America 2012 highlighted the future of unmanned systems in military, civilian and commercial applications.
Highlights from the conference include affirmation for unmanned systems in life saving applications inthe military; a commitment to integrate unmanned systems into the U.S. National Airspace System; and a pledge from the industry to work with government, civil liberties groups and others to ensure integration is done safely with respect to privacy.
Day one of the convention opened with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Michael Huerta highlighting the progress his agency has made in working to integrate unmanned air vehicles into the national airspace. Part of the framework to integrate UAS is moving ahead, he said, with the FAA due to soon ask for proposals to manage the upcoming six test sites still currently under selection. “We need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the very best data that we possibly can,” he said. The agency has also streamlined its certificate of authorization process, with the average non-emergency COA approval down to 60 days, and the FAA now provides two-year authorizations instead of one. This expedited process has been possible due to an internal reorganization that moved all the FAA’s unmanned work into its new Unmanned Aviation Systems Integration Office.
Though the agency has come a long way, Huerta said it still has more to go. “We need to change the way we do business as well,” he says. Huerta highlighted three core areas the FAA needs to work on: make the airspace system smarter and safer, bring technology benefits to the users, and task employees to think creatively and innovatively in a tight budget. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move integration for all UAS forward, but I’m very, very optimistic that we will get there.”
Day two kicked off with an affirmation of the life saving capabilities of unmanned systems when Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr Rorke Denver addressed attendees.
Denver has seen action in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and has made use of unmanned aircraft and unmanned underwater vehicles. “The fact of the matter is… I have been a benefactor from the technologies and the things that have been developed” by the people in the room, he says.
He has thrown a Raven into the air, similar to a scene in the movie, and “I’ve had ScanEagle, Tiger Shark, all kinds of Predators above my head helping leverage those technologies in a way that protected my guys, it made us win on the battlefield when we might not have otherwise.” He said he also made use of an unmanned underwater vehicle off the coast of Monrovia. “We’re in there with these lead lines and slates doing this classical SEAL UDT mission and this EMD guy comes walking up” with a vehicle that looks like a torpedo. It was an unmanned underwater vehicle, “somebody probably made it in here,” he says. “You throw this thing in the water and it’s got side-scan radar… an hour later it pops onto the surface, we plug it into a laptop and up pops a map” and the team was able to plot its path. “Just remarkable technology,” he says.
Finally, AUVSI Chairman of the Board Peter Bale promised attendees that the industry will, in time, figure out how to make these advances and respect all values. “I don’t want to look back on the process of figuring this out and have regrets that we learned lessons with blood or scandal that could have been avoided,” Bale said. “The technology has arrived and is ready. That means it is time to figure out the public safety and civil rights issues.”
Bale went on to say, “The FAA test ranges and the window until September of 2015 represent our chance to get this right on the front end. None of us, in or out of government, are quite sure how this process will unfold but I am pledging this organization’s support and asking for your personal and professional assistance in answering these questions. “Parallel with the FAA test range process that figures out the flight safety procedures and standards, I want to ask the law enforcement, criminal justice and civil rights communities to use these three years to help sort out the civil rights issues. I am pledging myself and this organization to engage in a serious dialogue with any and all concerned. “Politics does not have to be zero sum. This is not a choice between embracing technology or respecting deeply cherished values - we can do both. I look forward to the process and let’s get it right. There is too much at stake not to.”
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