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Unmanned Systems


The unmanned systems industry presents a unique opportunity for growth for San Diego’s aerospace companies. San Diego is home to two of the largest military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, and is a hub for UAV technologies for both military and civilian users. Covering air, land, and water, the unmanned systems platforms manufactured in the region serve a variety of sophisticated military and commercial missions.
With the rise in commercial and consumer uses, this industry is well positioned to carry aerospace innovation forward and to continue to attract top aerospace and software engineering talent to San Diego. While the Department of Defense (DoD) has been driving these technologies, significant moves by companies like Qualcomm, Amazon, and Google reflect the emerging opportunities for unmanned systems in commercial markets. San Diego’s talent base has the right blend of technical skills from communications, software, cybersecurity, aviation, robotics, and data analytics to capitalize on the maturation of these commercial markets.

Industry Highlights & Contributions

  • DoD: San Diego County receives the highest concentration of DoD funding for unmanned systems technology of any location in the country.1
  • VC: Shield AI, a local drone startup whose mission is to save lives with artificially intelligent (AI) systems, has raised $10.5 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz.2
  • And more VC: Brain Corp, an AI company specializing in the development of self-driving technology for robots,  announced a $114 million Series C funding round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund.3
  • RoboSub 2017: In its 20th edition, the unmanned, underwater robotics competition at SPAWAR’s large maritime test facility in Point Loma welcomed more than 300 college and high school students from eight countries to compete to design and build a vehicle from the ground up.4

Key Companies 

  • 5D Robotics 
  • Action Drone 
  • Aquaai
  • Brain Corp
  • Citadel
  • General Atomics ASI
  • Inova Drone
  • Kratos Defense
  • L3 Technologies
  • Northrop Grumman 
  • Planck Aerosystems
  • Ocean Aero
  • Qualcomm
  • Shield AI 
  • Teledyne Technologies


Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

AUVSI is the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. It serves more than 7,500 members from government organizations, industry, and academia.

Propel San Diego

Propel San Diego is a grant initiative awarded to the City of San Diego by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA). Through the collaboration of six key partner organizations, custom programs have been designed to assist businesses who sell products and services to DoD in order to develop a resilient defense supply chain that can stabilize despite changing budget, regional economic, and DoD readiness priorities. 


1. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, “Program Acquisition Cost by Weapon System: United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request, 2016 2. San Diego Business Journal, “Shield AI Raises $10.5 Million in Series A Round,” 2017 3. Business Wire, “Brain Corp Announces $114 Million in Series C Funding Round Led by Softbank Vision Fund,” 2017 4. Defense Visual Information Distribution Center, “RoboSub 2017 kicks off 20th year of unmanned, underwater robotics competition,”