No wonder so many bad guys have been taken out. As you can see from the video below, pilotless aircraft can be quite efficient. Two California companies, in particular, are being singled out for their work on drones. One is San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which has built 530 Predator drones. The other is Monrovia-based AeroVironment, which builds "mini-drones" that can be used on a local level by police and fire departments. From California Watch:
General Atomics is not publicly traded on Wall Street, so pinning down details of its balance sheet is difficult. However, available public records show the company has enjoyed more than $250 million in contract transactions with the Department of Homeland Security since 2005. Over $78 million of that activity occurred last year, nearly double the agreements inked in 2010, records show. A "transaction" can be everything from the purchase of an actual drone to spare parts, operational and maintenance support services, and flight testing.
Overall revenue for AeroVironment's unmanned aircraft business grew by $25.6 million between 2010 and 2011 reaching $249.8 million last fiscal year. Available data show just one U.S. Customs and Border Protection contract signed with AeroVironment in 2008, yet the larger homeland security market and its multitude of various customers holds plenty of promise. The company unveiled a product specifically targeting local governments in late October known as the Qube, which AeroVironment described as a "rapidly deployable eye in the sky" small enough to fit in a car trunk and easy enough to assemble and fly in less than five minutes.
*Update: Reader points out correctly that predator drones, while generally efficient, have resulted in civilian casualties over the years. In other words, it's not some harmless videogame. I should also note that this week's New Yorker has a profile of AeriVironment and its local operations. It's behind the paywall, but here's a snippet from the abstract:
As of now, only a tiny percentage of municipal and state police departments have any air presence, because most can't afford helicopters or planes. Small camera-loaded U.A.V.s are much cheaper. The public proposition, at this point, anyway, is not that drones will subjugate or assassinate unwitting citizens but that they will conduct search-and-rescue operations, fight fires, catch bad guys, inspect pipelines, spray crops, count nesting cranes and migrating caribou, and measure weather data and algae growth. For these and other tasks, they are useful and well suited. Of course, they are especially well suited, and heretofore have been most frequently deployed, for surveillance. "The nature of technology is that it is introduced for one role and then it slippery-slopes into unintended roles," Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution said. Singer believes that the drones will be as transformative as the advent of gunpowder, the steam engine, the automobile, or the computer. "Their intelligence and autonomy is growing," he said. "It used to be that an aerial surveillance plane had to fly close. Now sensors on a U.A.V. can detect a milk carton from sixty thousand feet. The law's not ready for all this."