Unmanned Systems: A Statistical Overview
Sep 15, 2008

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems in Canada (AUVSI-Canada) has released performance results for Canada’s unmanned systems industry for 2007. ­Earlier this year, the Association conducted an email survey to gain a better understanding of the unmanned systems industry in Canada as well as its unique needs and challenges.

AUVSI-Canada plans to employ these survey results to better understand the ­current and future state of the Canadian industry and further support its advocacy and communication efforts on behalf of its membership. AUVSI-Canada will also use the results to determine the competitive position of the Canadian sector and to benchmark itself against international counterparts.

Even though the Canadian unmanned systems industry is in its infancy stage, the opportunities for continuing growth are tremendous in the years ahead.

It should be noted that Western Canada is leading the way in Canada’s unmanned systems industry, with a majority of companies located in Alberta. Overall, in 2007, the industry generated $787 million in sales. Not surprisingly, the largest portion of this revenue was generated from the military sector, followed by commercial and civil sectors respectively. The majority of industry sales took place in Canada, followed by the United States and Europe. This sector shows signs of becoming a key economic contributor as the industry generated 3,640 jobs that year.

The survey found that the majority of small companies did not invest in R&D in 2007. However, Doug Hanna, head of the Auton­o­mous Intelligence Systems Section of Defence R&D Canada – Suffield, points out that his office’s investment in unmanned ­systems (including research) grew from a mixed research and development effort with 14 science and technology workers in 2000, to a focused unmanned systems research program with 25 science and tech workers by 2005.

The Research and Development budget for the department also climbed – from $600,000 in 2000 to $2 million over five years. Through government programs and key partnerships, AUVSI-Canada intends to facilitate the development of increased capacity for Canadian firms to invest in R&D expenditures. We feel such investments are critical and will allow the industry to position itself in the international market and to compete globally.

The survey also queried respondents about their 10 year revenue projections in the three major markets (commercial, military, and/or civil). A resounding 70% expected to generate revenue from commercial sales over the next 10 years. This is particularly interesting since the majority of current sales revenues are generated in the Military sector. However, 23% of respondents felt that up to half of their revenues could come from the Commercial sector by 2018. This attitude can be partially explained by the fact that the civil market is expanding due to previously unforeseen opportunities. The potential for government and industry to deploy and ­utilize commercial UVS solutions (in such areas as mining, petroleum, forestry, and law enforcement) is enormous.

Finally, respondents were asked to list challenges or barriers which they faced in generating sales. Despite Canada’s strengths and capabilities in this sector, serious long-term challenges continue to confront the industry. These include International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITARs), government procurement processes, and flight certification issues. Among other challenges indicated by respondents were issues surrounding flight restrictions and the lack of unity within the industry.

The full findings of the survey report are available on our web site (www.auvsi-canada.org). We will be addressing the issues identified in the survey as our priority area of focus, such as hosting a webinar this Fall on the Controlled Goods Program. In the months ahead, we shall be looking at expanding the scope of the survey as it continues to evaluate the evolving state of the unmanned ­systems industry with a view to effectively and appropriately support the sector.
Anne Healey is the Executive Director of AUVSI-Canada.
© Frontline Defence 2008