This is really a challenge to encourage a new generation of researchers in autonomy to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Lockheed Martin, defence contractor source of business by far. The US military's drone programmes have been dominated by San Diego-based General Atomics, which makes the MQ9 Reaper.
Lockheed's foray into drone racing can be seen as part of a broader rebranding effort being undertaken by the Washington defence establishment, as legacy defence firms present themselves as something other than lumbering, bureaucratic creatures of government. Lockheed has been pumping resources into such efforts, recently lending $100 million to its own technology venture investment fund.
"We are really at our heart a high-technology company," said Robie Samanta Roy, vice president of tech strategy at Lockheed Martin.
That shift is driven by the changing face of innovation in the 21st century. Advances in artificial intelligence are increasingly coming from Silicon Valley tech firms such as Google as opposed to government research labs. That cultural difference has occasionally been a source of friction. In early June, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai announced in a blog post that the company would refrain from developing any artificial intelligence that is used in weaponry, after being pressured by employees over the company's military drone work.
As they embark on their new partnership, the Drone Racing League and Lockheed Martin say they are focused purely on sport. But Lockheed executives say they view the competition as a key recruitment opportunity for national security-oriented efforts.
"We really are looking for the best and brightest scientists and engineers to help us," Roy said. Drawing a contrast between Lockheed's work and that of the commercial technology world, he added: "We are not selling ads . . . we are saving lives."