This is re­ally a chal­lenge to en­cour­age a new gen­er­a­tion of re­searchers in au­ton­omy to push the bound­aries of what’s pos­si­ble.”

The East African - - OUTLOOK -

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."

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