Florida Unmanned: Sunshine State Takes a Leadership Position in 2022

Florida unmanned industry Florida drone industryFlorida to Take Center Stage for Drones and Autonomous Vehicle Systems in 2022

With a new push from the AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter, the Sunshine State is poised to expand its leadership role in the unmanned ground, air, and sea-based systems sector.

The following is a guest post by Christopher Todd, President of the AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter, and CEO of AIRT.  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.

Speaking at AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL in Atlanta in August 2021, Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), one of the state’s leading advocates for electric and autonomous vehicle systems, quoted an old Florida colloquialism to express the unmanned vehicle systems industry as being “somewhere between the lightning and the thunder.”   Or in layman’s terms; we’ve seen the “flash,” and now were waiting for the “boom.”

One of those “booms” arrived last week with thunderous effect.

In the waning hours of 2021, Florida’s Department of Management Services (DMS) kicked up a hornet’s nest by publishing the state mandated and much anticipated Approved Drone Manufacturers list.  The manner in which the list was published caused substantial confusion in the public safety drone community and left Florida’s first responders and government contractors who use drones scratching their heads.

What the DMS Approved Drone Manufactures list will evolve into over the coming months remains to be seen.  One thing is certain; that fireworks salvo was just a preview of the many significant industry developments we can expect to see coming out of Florida in 2022.

Florida has a rich history of aviation and aerospace.  From Miami serving as the first marine operations base for Pan Am Clipper Flights serving the Caribbean and Latin America in 1931, to Amelia Earhart launching her fateful trip around the world from Miami on June 1, 1937, to decades of NASA Space Flight, to today’s space exploration by private industry, Florida has always been at the tip of the spear in helping to advance manned flight.

Yet, the state has largely taken a “wait and see” approach when it comes to unmanned aviation.

All that is changing.

It’s no secret that Florida has been on an absolute tear lately.  As the COVID pandemic rages on in other parts of the country, Floridians appear to be returning to normalcy.  The “Freedom First” policies of Governor Ron DeSantis are working with dramatic effect to ensuring Florida’s economic engine continues to thrive.  For the past four straight years, Florida has invested over $10 billion year in its Department of Transportation.  Enterprise Florida has been attracting all types of companies looking to relocate to Florida to conduct business.  This past November, Florida posted job growth numbers six times faster than the national average.

Chief Executive magazine ranked Florida the 2nd best state to conduct business in the U.S., and Forbes magazine ranked Miami the #1 happiest place to work in the U.S.  The Sunshine State offers a large, diverse, and technically proficient business-friendly marketplace with no personal income tax and low corporate taxes.

Oh, and did I mention the weather?

The business momentum that Florida is experiencing right now is coinciding with a resurgence in activity along Florida’s Space Coast, continued development of new systems for use by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in Tampa, and the emergence of Miami and South Florida as a new tech and cryptocurrency epicenter linking the U.S. with the Caribbean, Latin America, and other international markets.

When you add up all the positive attributes that Florida offers, it is bewildering that more corporations have not pulled up camp and relocated down to the Sunshine State.  And that brings us back to unmanned systems.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), is the world’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics.  The AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter (AUVSI Florida) is the regional chapter with responsibility for most of the state

AUVSI Florida is ringing in the new year with a bold prediction that 2022 will be the year that Florida emerges as an undisputed leader in supporting the use of drones, autonomous vehicles, and maritime robotic systems to improve quality of life.

Florida has already emerged as a leader in autonomous ground vehicle transportation.  The Florida Automated Vehicles Summit – the brainchild of Brandes – has become perhaps the leading state-run conference focusing on unmanned vehicle technology in the U.S.  Autonomous Florida, a program of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, has worked intensely to bolster Florida’s autonomous vehicles ecosystem.  Autonomous trucks filled with goods are now rolling down Florida’s highways, and autonomous cars are continually traversing the streets of the greater Miami area.

Helping to shine an even brighter spotlight on the use of unmanned vehicles across air, ground, and sea domains will be the arrival of AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando from April 25-28.

Widely considered the largest trade show of unmanned vehicle systems, XPONENTIAL will bring together a community of end users, technologists and policymakers to collectively write the next chapter of autonomous innovation. AUVSI Florida will serve as the official host chapter for XPONENTIAL 2022.

Florida has an incredibly rich history surrounding the use of maritime, ground, air, and space vehicles.  The arrival of XPONENTIAL in Orlando will help propel Florida into the new era of autonomous transportation.

Complementing the arrival of XPONENTIAL, the addition of several new team members to the AUVSI Florida executive committee and board of directors will help the chapter to increase awareness and generate favorable public perception surrounding the use of drones and other automated vehicle technologies.

AUVSI Florida members have elected an all-star team to help usher in a new era of unmanned systems innovation for Florida.  These new voices will work together with the chapter’s partners across industry, government, academia, and the non-profit sectors to advance robotic vehicle systems and help Florida redefine how it embraces this amazing new technology.

The new leadership team for AUVSI Florida effective January 1, 2022, includes:


  1. President: Christopher Todd, Airborne International Response Team (AIRT)
  2. Vice President: Eric Schwartz, Florida Power and Light Company (FPL)
  3. Secretary: François Xavier Charbonnel, Parrot Drones
  4. Treasurer: Paulette Vroblefski, Quiet Professionals


  1. Director, Immediate Past President: John Lambert, Nexutech
  2. Director, Jacksonville Satellite Chapter: Zach Dewey, KBR
  3. Director, Miami Satellite Chapter: Andy Jaques, Raven Strategic Partners
  4. Director, Space Coast Satellite Chapter: Todd Hillhouse, Planet Inhouse
  5. Director, Tampa Satellite Chapter: Charles Arant, Tnara Operations Group
  6. Director, Education: Brent Terwilliger, Ph.D., Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  7. Director, Enterprise: Michael McVay, Florida Drone Supply
  8. Director, Maritime: Jack Rowley, Maritime Tactical Systems
  9. Director, Public Safety: Robert Dooley, Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)

In addition to serving as the official host chapter for XPONENTIAL, AUVSI Florida’s leadership is planning to strengthen relationships between the chapter and AUVSI members, as well as organizational partners throughout Florida.

“The Sunshine State has a tremendous untapped unmanned systems ecosystem that includes AUVSI individual members and organizational partners,” says Eric Schwartz, Vice President, AUVSI Florida.  “We want to leverage the power of these relationships to help build value for all of our members while also driving the industry forward across Florida.”

Through the recently announced DRONERESPONDERS Florida Public Safety Coordination Group (FLOGRU), AUVSI Florida will also support the use of unmanned systems by public safety agencies in the state.  This will include assisting Florida’s public safety agencies to understand and adapt to the new Florida Approved Drone Manufacturers list.

Larry Wood is a deputy and lead remote pilot with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.  He is also the new vice president of the AUVSI Miami Satellite Chapter.  Despite some potential challenges imposed by the new list from DMS, Wood believes that Florida’s public safety agencies will ultimately overcome and adapt.

“The bottom line is identifying UAS technology that can safely and successfully accomplish our missions, and then getting that technology into the hands of our public safety remote pilots,” says Wood.  “The DRONERESPONDERS Florida Group will offer a collective voice towards making that a reality.”

With the explosion of Miami as both a technology epicenter and the gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America, the AUVSI Miami Chapter (AUVSI Miami) is planning to capitalize on these strengths to combine unmanned vehicle systems with emerging tech and real estate development conversations.

“Miami is viewed by Latin Americans in the same way that North Americans view Silicon Valley,” says Andy Jaques, the new Director of the AUVSI Miami.  “When you merge that concept with the sensational growth South Florida is experience across the tech sector, it represents an ideal landscape for unmanned and autonomous technologies to thrive – both within Florida and internationally.”

Jaques also believes that South Florida will soon become an epicenter for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) development and Miami-Dade County for Urban Air Mobility (UAM) implementation, especially with economic development organizations such as the Miami-Dade Beacon Council helping to create a pro-business climate in the region.

“The Miami area has all the attributes one could wish for in implementing a UAM strategy,” says Jaques.  “High population density in a relatively small geographic area combined with an incredible need to move people more quickly and efficiently – for both business, tourism, and luxury travel.  When you factor in additional characteristics such as climate, weather, terrain, and infrastructure capacity, Miami becomes an extremely lucrative metropolitan area to implement air taxis and other AAM models.”

As you watch the unmanned systems industry evolve over 2022 one thing is certain; you will continue to hear Florida mentioned often in the news, in social media, and in private conversations.  Each time that happens, consider it a friendly reminder that big things are happening down in the Sunshine State.  We invite you to be a part of it!

To learn more about the AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter, or any of the satellite chapter in Miami, Jacksonville, the Space Coast, and Tampa, and how you can get involved, visit auvsiflorida.org.  For information about AUVSI XPONENTIAL including registration and exhibitor information, visit http://xponential.org.  For information about the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit, please visit favsummit.com.

Christopher Todd is the President of the AUVSI Florida Peninsula Chapter and the Executive Director of AIRT, Inc., the nation’s leading 501(c)3 non-profit organization supporting drones for emergency use and official home of DRONERESPONDERS – the world’s fasted growing program advancing public safety use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  Chris is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM®) and FAA-certified Remote Pilot, who also works as an entrepreneur and consultant having helped grow billion-dollar companies in the technology industry.