James Grimsley designs intelligent machines that mimic nature. One of his projects looks like a bird. More importantly, it moves like one. The black, winged apparatus is programmed to fly, observe, perch, wait … … and explode. Drones are a booming business, and Oklahoma wants to pilot the controls.
Development of UAVs — short for unmanned aerial vehicles, the industry’s less lethal-sounding term of choice — is growing in the United States and around the world. Part of that growth is in the vehicles themselves — the self– or remotely piloted planes, helicopters, zeppelins and crafts. But there’s a lot of related business, including software, programming and communications equipment. While Washington, D.C. lawmakers wrestle with reining in the U.S. defense budget, UAV research and development will likely be immune to cuts. In fact, Pentagon brass and the Obama administration have identified unmanned drones as a growing priority. And drone technologies originally designed as war zone weaponry have a surprising array of non-military, civil and commercial uses, from pipeline inspection, data gathering and law enforcement to precision agriculture and storm tracking. For drones to be successful, civilly and commercially, they have to safely navigate skies already occupied by airplanes. And they must safety fly above cities and communities.