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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive
Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive
Unmanned aircraft have been the darlings of Pentagon reformers, military planners and the U.S. weapons industry for the better part of this decade. Surveillance drones armed with precision-guided munitions have become the weapons of choice for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for their ability to deliver bombs on target and serve as the eyes in the sky that help clear the fog of war.

The military’s — and CIA’s — embrace of unmanned air vehicles led to the escalation of the so-called “drone wars” under the Obama administration.

But the widespread use of UAVs in airstrikes also created a PR problem for the drone industry: Its products were no longer just just seen as cool novelties, but as “killer drones.”

UAV and ground robot manufacturers are trying to push back on that negative stereotype. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which is gearing up for the industry’s biggest trade show next week in Washington, D.C., hosted a news conference at the National Press Club Aug. 10 to talk about the warm and fuzzy side of robotic machines.

“While many headlines have been devoted to the ‘killer drones’ and battlefield robots, these same platforms have many other uses,” said an AUVSI press release. “They can extend the reach of first responders, scientists and aid agencies while keeping people out of harm’s way.”

Several executives were on hand at the news conference to discuss the humanitarian roles of robotic equipment.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David "Duncan" Heinz, vice president of iRobot Maritime Division, said that while his company is better known for the Roomba vacuum cleaner and for its battlefield bomb-detecting robots, its underwater systems are at work monitoring the Gulf of Mexico. Robots also helped Japan’s nuclear engineers keep track of deadly radiation in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed the March 11 tsunami. A similar pitch was made by retired Army Lt. Col. Charlie Dean of QinetiQ Corp., who talked extensively about the role that his company’s industrial-strength robots played in the tsunami relief effort in Japan — moving debris, transporting materials and monitoring nuclear reactors.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ricky Thomas, who oversees Global Hawk UAV operations, said the high-flying spy aircraft have aided NASA in studying hurricanes, have assisted relief workers by providing surveillance over Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and over Japan’s Fukushima plant.

Also offering praise of UAVs was John Priddy, director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Security Operations Center at Grand Forks, N.D. The Air Force’s venerable Predator UAV has made headlines for its strike missions in Pakistan, but it also flies to protect the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, Priddy asserted. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a growing fleet of Predator aircraft that have been used for humanitarian duties such as monitoring the flooding Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota, and wildfires in the southwestern United States.

The litany of humane duties performed by robots, alas, was not enough to deter a representative from the antiwar women-for-peace group “Code Pink” from badgering the speakers about the damage that drones were causing to innocent civilians in war zones. Code Pink activists, known for picketing outside military trade shows and for interrupting congressional hearings, claim that unmanned air strikes that killed 14 al-Qaida leaders also killed 700 Pakistani civilians: a ratio of 50 innocents to one target. “Ground the drones!” screamed a Code Pink flier. Another antiwar advocate at the news conference noted that Israel’s defense forces have targeted civilians in the Gaza Strip using drones and were spying on them. Would the U.S. military do the same here at home? Not likely, said Thomas, the U.S. Air Force officer. There are just too many laws in this country that protect citizens from military surveillance, he said. When the Air Force was asked to deploy a Global Hawk in support of firefighters who were combating huge wildfires in southern California in 2007, the service had to jump through untold legal hoops, and finally had to receive presidential approval to operate the aircraft.

The UAV industry not only is seeking to improve the public’s perception of its products but also is hoping to persuade the Federal Aviation Administration that it should relax current domestic restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft. Limitations to UAV flight in U.S. airspace are hindering the industry’s growth and getting in the way of job creation, AUVSI contends. The association estimated that, if UAVs were allowed to fly with fewer restrictions in U.S. airspace over the next 15 years the industry could create more than 23,000 jobs, which would equate to $1.6 billion in wages. “UAS integration will have a tremendous impact on the aerospace industry and aid in driving economic development in many regions across the country,” an association brochure noted.

Comments

Re: Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive

All the public relations money in the world won't change the fact that drones are primarily used to kill children, women, and other civilians in other countries. This creates hatred toward the U.S. government of enormous proportions. But those who profit from their manufacture choose to look away from this critical security issue, and will go on making a world less safe for Americans.
Lisa Savage at 8/11/2011 9:51 AM

Re: Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive

The militaries around the world already remove a person's rationality, compassion, and moral obligation to treat his and her fellow humans with dignity. Now we are building robots that remove our vision and hearing as we go about the mindless killing of each other in the name of 'battling the enemy' . This blind mass attack method use to route out a single so called terrorist leaving behind 50 dead, wounded totally innocent people is unacceptable. Its no wonder this trade group needs to spread positive propaganda to build public support for this shame of humanity. Perhaps American citizens should be allowed to see the video images captured by these UAVs as they kill their handler's enemy, along with the children and women just trying to live a peaceful life. Let's  really experience the horrors of war and make a more informed decision as it's usefulness in the world.
Mark Morrison at 8/11/2011 12:52 PM

Re: Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive

Obviously Lisa, this article is referring to people like you. Completely uneducated on the subject matter but more then willing to put their two cents in.  The vast majority of missions flown by "Drones" and "UAVs" are for the purpose of reconnaissance not taking out targets. Only the accidents that you are referring to make the news because the media likes to sensationalize their agenda. Accidents do happen i am not denying that but they are few and far between contrary to what your news is telling you. Instead of repeating propaganda that you have been exposed to while responding to a post how about doing some homework first.
Steve at 8/11/2011 1:10 PM

Re: Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive

Drones are not "primarily used to kill..." anyone.  Drones are primarily used for surveillance, including military and commercial applications and research and other public purposes (e.g. search and rescue, environmental monitoring, and resource surveys).  Even in combat operations, drones are with a few exceptions not even equipped with munitions but rather with good to excellent imaging systems like those developed and manufactured by the company for which I work, Hood Tech Corp. Vision, Inc.
K Maddox at 8/11/2011 1:23 PM

Re: Robotics Industry Launches PR Offensive

Mark, first off have you ever heard of YouTube? There are plenty of videos of Drone Strikes. Secondly, I work with two men that were deployeed to Iraq and flew the Predator. I assure you that these men did absolutly no "Mindless Killing". You are associating Drones with Video games. Even children know the difference. The effect these weapons have is fully recognised buy the piolos, yes piolots. Its seems you may not be aware that people are actually controlling these drones. There is a lengthy process to allow a missle to come off a drone and numerous people are involved in making that decision. The consequence are forever embeded in those soldiers lives. How dare you say "Mindless Killing". The only Mindlessness is your comment.
Steve at 8/11/2011 1:45 PM

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