Protests at drone expo in Los An­ge­les


Pro­tes­tors briefly dis­rupted the open­ing of a Los An­ge­les con­sumer and com­mer­cial drone expo re­cently with chants blam­ing a speaker for preda­tor drone deaths in Pak­istan. The demon­stra­tion cut into a key­note speech by Austin Blue, Pres­i­dent of Spec­trum Aero­nau­ti­cal. Blue’s fam­ily owns Gen­eral Atomics, a pro­ducer of the un­manned preda­tor air­craft.

“Austin Blue, shame on you, how many deaths were caused by you?” the group chanted be­fore be­ing es­corted out of the Los An­ge­les Memo­rial Sports Arena by se­cu­rity. A sec­ond group out­side the venue blamed drones for 3,000 deaths in Pak­istan and warned that the LAPD ob­tained two re­cently.

The protests and dis­rup­tion did lit­tle to wane en­thu­si­asm for the Un­manned Au­ton­o­mous Ve­hi­cle Sys­tems As­so­ci­a­tion’s in­au­gu­ral Drone Expo at the Los An­ge­les Memo­rial Sports Arena. The expo catered to hob­by­ists, ven­dors, pro­fes­sional drone pi­lots and busi­nesses in­ter­ested in or al­ready us­ing drones with new prod­uct un­veils and pan­els about the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

Blue said the pro­tes­tors – who were led away by se­cu­rity – had a right to speak out, just as peo­ple have a right to pi­lot drones. That kind of per­cep­tion is what the drone in­dus­try has to over­come as it be­comes more main­stream, but Blue said he is al­ready see­ing a shift.

“The ap­pli­ca­tions that are go­ing to in­creas­ing come to the fore­front are the peace­ful, eco­nom­i­cally help­ful ones,” he said. Drones can help farm­ers plant crops ef­fi­ciently, film stu­dios cap­ture beau­ti­ful aerial footage and ac­tivists mon­i­tor en­dan­gered wildlife, he said. Like the first com­mer­cial air­craft, Blue said drones will even­tu­ally move past their mil­i­tary back­ground. “No­body here is even re­motely in­ter­ested in us­ing them as weapons,” Blue said.

Keith Ka­plan, CEO of the Tesla Foun­da­tion and a founder of the UAVSA, said the Drone Expo started first as a small ho­tel-sized con­fer­ence, but grew dra­mat­i­cally as the in­dus­try took off. The UAVSA ad­vo­cates for fair reg­u­la­tions for both in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies.

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