However, he is not alone in the drone business. A large number of startups are building similar technologies for the military. Shield AI was founded by a former member of the Navy SEALs and is located in San Diego, not far from Anduril. Teal Drones, whose founder emerged from Mr. Thiel’s internship program, is based in Salt Lake City.
The Department of Defense is hungry for small drones that track objects and fly into buildings, combat zones and other dangerous areas with little help from distant pilots. Self-steering drones will be an important part of combat and other military activities in the coming years, said Mike Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, a Pentagon organization that aims to facilitate collaboration between the military and technology industries.
“We have to make sure we have friendly sources to buy from,” he said.
Although some of the startups say their drones have already been used by the military, the technology is still in its early stages of use. However, there is cause for concern that artificial intelligence systems used in conjunction with weapons could undermine the role of human decision-making in combat.
When asked if their drone technology could be used alongside weapons, some startups say it can. This will be an integral part of the US effort to maintain military parity with other countries. “Most people understand that this is part of what the military does,” Luckey said.
Shield AI builds autonomous drones for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance in combat, and it is said that the U.S. Special Operations Command has already deployed them on the ground (which the Department of Defense has confirmed). Ryan Tseng, co-founder of Shield AI, said this type of technology, like Anduril’s, could be used with weapons.
However, Skydio, a Silicon Valley drone company founded by former Google employees, is more cautious. “We are not putting guns on the drone,” said managing director Adam Bry. “Guns are the only thing where you want less automation, nothing more.”