From Heli-Drones to Drone Boats: Inside the Drone Expo


Dronepalooza. Droneyland. Dronestock. I had a slew of aggrandizing nicknames for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference heading into this week, looking forward to my inaugural drone expo. The size and scope of the event did not disappoint. It was essentially one-stop shopping for farmers and warfighters alike, a bevy of unmanned aerial systems and components, robotics technology for unmanned vehicles, IED-defusing and reconnaissance robots, and more.

And when we talk shopping, that was one of the more fascinating aspects of the megaconference that swallowed three giant exhibit halls and numerous conference rooms at the Washington Convention Center. Foreign military officers mingled throughout the crowd and stopped for long conversations at the booths, carrying sponsor tote bags and filling them with swag, informational brochures and business cards. Among the countries whose officers I spotted were Israel, Canada, Italy, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Senegal. I saw officers from Serbia and Kosovo, naturally on different sides of the hall. And then I passed an officer from... Pakistan.

Yes, the country that heartily criticizes the U.S. for drone use was drone shopping in Washington, D.C. One of the mega-contractors at the show told me they had no dealings with Pakistan. One of the companies at the show under contract with the Pentagon to provide Pakistan with ground robotics technology told me they hadn't seen the officer come by. So what was in his shopping bag is still a mystery.