The Predator drone is now a household name, having become infamous as the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism weapon of choice. The name of the man behind the most successful UAV in human history, however, is rarely mentioned. A recent economist article sheds light on the identity of the Predator’s inventor, Abe Karem, or as the article nicknames him, “the dronefather”. Abe Karem’s story is a familiar one – a passionate, innovative thinker moves to the U.S. to make his vision a reality (and in this case, then starts the process over again – Karem is currently seeking to develop aircraft capable of vertical take-offs and landings).
That this latest game changer was developed in the U.S. drives homes the importance of creating a hospitable environment for technological innovation. The U.S. is the global leader on this front (if by a smaller margin post-2008). A critical reason for this, of course, is the amount that country spends on defense. Government backed research by military scientists and engineers has proven definitive in past decades. While game-changing, ‘disruptive’ innovations may have low startup costs, they eventually need serious support in order to move mainstream.
Over in Europe, the U.K. has reportedly spent more than £2 billion developing their own drone fleet (many of which were bought from the U.S.), and are poised to spend another £2 billion on the program. And group of six European countries has only just succeeded in developing an attack-sized stealth drone. The nEURON was launched from a French air base on Saturday, but is still only for demonstration purposes.
Given the enormous costs of breaking new ground with these kinds of systems in-house, Canada will need to enter the drone age via research partnerships or settle for buying American (likely dated) technology.