The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. has been invaded by drones this week. Only, don't call them drones, warns the United States' main robot-mongering group and convention host, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). These machines are smarter, more agile -- and in some cases, deadlier -- than the relatively tame machines that now crowd battlefields around the planet.
There were plenty of humans at the AUVSI show, too. In addition to a plethora of defense contractors, there were representatives from states urging drone makers to invest there, even companies marketing their drones for benign jobs like filmmaking and agricultural work. Still, the convention had the unmistakable feel of defense expo. (And it wasn't just the rockets, machine guns, infrared cameras, camouflage, and uniformed military officials from around the globe eyeing the latest in robo-weaponry.) There were also the usual coterie of overweight Pentagon contractors in boxy suits; show booths adorned with slogans like "Always Fight For Freedom"; and of course, plenty of drones designed to hunt and kill.
If anything was the theme of this conference, it was figuring out how to make drones able to operate on their own among humans. More than 20 of the panel discussions at the conference dealt with making drones autonomous and able to safely navigate skies already crowded with manned aircraft.
And as drones become increasingly important -- and increasingly common -- in our society, they've become more contentious, too. At this week's AUVSI was a security presence yours truly hasn't seen at any of the dozens of defense industry trade shows he's been to over the years. Security guards searched all bags before anyone could enter the show floor; D.C. police officers were stationed in panel discussions. Nevertheless, Code Pink managed to stage a "die-in" on the convention center steps and a protester interrupted a Tuesday morning speech by Army Lt. Gen. James Barclay with shouts of: "Shame on you AUVSI!" and "The blood of Pakistani children is on your hands, the blood of Yemeni children is on your hands!"
Well, at least she didn't call them drones.
What follows are some of the highlights from the show floor.
Above, Boeing displays a model of the unmanned version of its famous Little Bird attack chopper. The AH-6X, as the unmanned version is known, is capable of carrying rockets, guns, and various sensors.