San Diego and Tijuana Work Together To Become Global Drone Hub

PHOTO: San Diego is joining forces with Baja, Mexico to become the center of the burgeoning drone industry.

San Diego is joining forces with Tijuana to become the center of the burgeoning drone industry.

Business leaders hope that the already growing defense industry in the San Diego area, combined with the technical and manufacturing expertise in Baja California will attract business and make the region into the capital of the rapidly growing drone industry. Drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are basically flying robots used primarily for military purposes but increasingly for commercial uses such as agriculture, infrastructure inspection, even archeology.

"The industry is projected to double in the next seven years and we see tremendous opportunities for the San Diego-Baja region," said Sean Barr of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Already more than 7,000 jobs in San Diego are dedicated to the unmanned vehicle industry, according to a report by the National University System Institute For Policy Research (NUSIPR). In 2011, $1.28 billion was spent in Southern California on drones – and analysts expect that to double by the end of the decade.

San Diego's defense industry has quadrupled in recent years. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has increasing turned to drones for reconnaissence and attack missions. Defense spending in San Diego went from $2.8 billion in 2000 to $11.6 billion in 2010.

Even with expected cuts in defense spending, global demand for drones alone will reach $12 billion by 2019. Much of that growth is expected to come from commercial spending.

"We know the commercial potential is greater," Barr said in an interview.

Barr emphasized the broad land and maritime applications for the robotic technology. And under a recent law, the Federal Aviation Administration will open up airspace to commercial drones by 2015.

"Clearly these manufacturers are interested not only in unmanned vehicles for military use, but also in the civilian market," said Erik Bruvold, President of NUSIPR and co-author of its report. "They understand that's where there is growth potential."

He says business leaders are leveraging Baja's economic strengths to make it happen.

Tijuana is already a well-known manufacturing hub for the aerospace, automotive, electronic and medical industries.

"The development of a robust non-military marketplace is going to be an important part of the synergy between the two regions," Bruvold said.

See also: Jordi Muñoz, a 20-year-old at the Forefront of the Personal Drone Market

Jordi Muñoz, President of 3D Robotics, is already taking advantage of that synergy. The young Mexican entrepreneur, whose drone business caters to hobbyist and university researchers, has set up shop in San Diego, but has manufacturing take place in Tijuana. And nearly all of the engineers he's hired in San Diego to design and develop the technology are from Tijuana as well.

Representatives from Baja and Southern California will be jointly representing the region this summer at the Paris Air Show, a leading aerospace industry event, said Barr.

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