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Local company wins lucrative contract to produce Army drones

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Updated: 11/14/2013 7:12 pm
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There's a new push for expanding drone use in Northeast Florida as a way to create hundreds of new jobs.

One Florida company is already taking flight with the idea by announcing dozens of new hires to accommodate a growing industry.

Bryan da Frota launched Prioria Robotics in 2003 with a group of engineers from the University of Florida.

The Gainesville-based company was recently awarded a $4.5 million contract to produce 36 small unmanned aircraft and 12 ground control stations for the U.S. Army.

Each unit costs between $100,000 and $200,000.

It marks the company's first contract with the U.S. Army, but American and Canadian forces have already successfully operated Prioria-produced drones in Afghanistan.

"It achieved its mission," said da Frota. "They found the bad guys and saved lives. So we're proud of those accomplishments."

Maveric is Prioria's flagship product, and the reason de Frota's company is creating 40 new jobs.

Maveric is small and nimble, weighing in at a little more than 2 pounds. Now, drone surveillance systems can be carried into combat by a single soldier, and operated by a small unit.

Prioria's technology gives ground troops immediate access to information gathered on the battlefield, thanks to its ability for rapid deployment.

Prioria's team of engineers are finding new uses for drones, an industry they predict is about to take off in Northeast Florida.

"This is bigger than Gainesville, and this is bigger than Jacksonville," said da Frota. "What we're watching is the growth of an industry."

The JaxChamber has UAV's on its radar for potentially creating hundreds of new jobs in Jacksonville. Chamber officials asked Prioia Robotics to take part in an event, Unmanned Systems Forum, Dec. 17 at Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront focusing on drone use in our area.

Drone use by civilian agencies, such as law enforcement, has become the center of debate in Florida and across the nation.

A new state law limits when they can use their unmanned aerial vehicles. Law enforcement must obtain a search warrant before putting a drone up in the sky unless there is an immediate, deadly threat or a high risk for a terrorist attack.

At least three law enforcement agencies in the state also have Federal Aviation Administration licenses to fly drones: the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Polk County Sheriff's Office, and the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Opponents of drone technology claim its use will lead to unchecked, secret surveillance by government agencies.

"So the issue of privacy is not an issue of unmanned aircraft," said da Frota. "Facebook and cellphones do much more to violate our privacy than any unmanned aircraft ever will. The key is adopting laws and regulations to deal with these aircrafts."

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