China made its debut this week at the world’s largest robotics trade show when a Shenzhen-based firm showcased its F50, a small drone with a high-definition video camera that a company brochure billed as a tool for monitoring protests, or responding to building fires.
The appearance of AEE Technology Co.’s relatively small, short-range drone—about the size of a pizza pan—in the drone market underscores the burgeoning international competition in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles and military robots.
State-run and private Chinese companies have invested heavily in recent years in developing drones both for export and for China’s military and domestic security needs.
China’s investment in new military technology, including the recent launch of an aircraft carrier and the development of a stealth jet, has prompted concern in U.S. military circles. Military analysts have suggested that China is focused on capabilities that could threaten U.S. military vessels in a confrontation over Taiwan. The most recent Defense Department report to Congress on China’s military capabilities notes Beijing’s push to develop longer-range unmanned aircraft, including armed drones, “expands China’s options for long-range reconnaissance and strike.”
But AEE’s information brochure—which shows an overhead image of protesters hemmed in by riot police, as well as a building on fire—suggests a similarly strong interest in domestic security.
AEE was the first Chinese company to exhibit its wares at Unmanned Systems North America, an annual exposition in Washington that features robotic hardware from around the world. In a small booth on the edge of the showroom floor, Wendy Wei, the firm’s overseas sales department manager, said the company was looking to drum up international sales—and potential orders from military and police customers.