Let Go of the Controls — and We Can Fly

On the Floor, and in the Air, at the Largest Unmanned and Robotic Trade Show

“The Terminator” … “the robots are taking over mankind,”

…several engineers said — only half in jest — when asked at the AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL 2017 what they believe most worries consumers and policymakers about their technology.

Over the last several days, many of the most innovative companies in the world swarmed downtown Dallas to show off their new drones, robots and other unmanned technology. With their hardware on display and software on their tongues, it was clear that it wasn’t only science fiction on the mind:

Most consumers are buying semi-autonomous cars from their local auto dealers, while fully autonomous vehicles are being tested right beside them on the roads.
For people like me, this conference was like Christmas — with visions of quadcopters buzzing around in our heads. And while I can’t wait to wake up with a new drone under my tree, much of the story here is not about consumers; it’s really about how businesses and governments are using this technology to do the jobs that are often too dangerous, dirty or dreary for the average worker.

The excitement over the current uses — and future possibilities — of this technology flew through the air and landed in the ears of every passerby who stopped long enough to hear the pitch.  Today, these drones and robots are already assisting to save lives, increase crop yields, inspect bridges and win wars.  Imagine what they can do tomorrow.

And that brings us back to the original question: what do these engineers think is on the minds of policymakers and consumers when they think of cars driving autonomously, drones delivering packages and robots going where humans dare not go today?
Let Go of the Controls and We Can Fly
We know that for many of these policymakers and consumers, they are imagining the future and it’s exciting. After all, put drones in the skies, and you have convenience at your fingertips; take those hands off the wheels, and you have fewer accidents. To many, whose limitations prevent them from driving today, a self-driving car isn’t a ride — it’s freedom. For many others, that future seems fraught with visions of drones falling out of the sky and landing on the heads of the unemployed — whose jobs were just replaced by autonomous technology.

There lies the challenge for this industry going forward: fear can be contagious, but its spread can be stopped with a heavy dose of excitement. That excitement will continue to hang from the rafters of the Convention Center in Dallas even after the last exhibit has been taken down. But, it won’t find its way into the public’s imagination without a strong and concerted effort, which has been lacking to date.
After all, there is still a lot of policy to be debated and consumers’ imagination to be won before the Terminator arrives on “judgment day.”

Team Members

James Baril_2
James Baril


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