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Have you got a drone that can meet military standards? You might win it all.



SOFWERX, a public-private technology incubator with funding from U.S. Special Operations Command, is gearing up to kick off a series of unorthodox events to gather information and data about new developments in the world of small drones that will wrap up with an apparent drone demolition derby. The goal is to explore systems and equipment that could be a benefit to U.S. military operations, but looking at the participants, it also seems like an opportunity to highlight the growing threat of tiny unmanned aircraft to American troops.

According to its website, SOFWERX – a techy contraction of Special Operations Forces Works – plans to run four main ThunderDrone events, starting with a technology expo in September 2017, along with three “senior leader reviews” to update SOCOM’s leadership. The main focus areas are broad, including technology related to unmanned aircraft that can operate anywhere – including in space – drone swarms, and weapons and other payloads, as well as associated rapid prototyping and 3D printing capabilities.

The organization will host all of this in a 7,000 square foot warehouse it rented in Tampa, Florida, which is also where its main office is located. The project will end with the battle royale style “Prototype Rodeo” in November 2017. “Are you ready to rumble?” the ThunderDrone page asks.

Though first announced earlier in August 2017, the plan didn’t get much attention until Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson mentioned it while visiting Holloman Air Force Base for her service’s ongoing light attack aircraft experiment. SOFWERX’ website did not specifically

“In two months, we’re going to have a big competition. They’ve rented out a big warehouse,” she said in a speech on Aug. 16, 2017. “It’s a rapid prototyping event, and basically it’s to investigate swarms and platforms and effects and data science of small unmanned aerial vehicles. There’s even one [event] that says, ‘Ok, bring your stuff, we’ll see who the last drone standing is.’”

The name “ThunderDrone” itself seems to be a play on this final showdown. In the 1985 movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Mel Gibson’s titular character has to fight for his life in the Thunderdome, a post-apocalyptic battle arena run by Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity. They've got an amazing logo, too, featuring a cross between a skull and quad-copter with a Ka-bar combat knife in its mouth.





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