Just days after she created a new Office of Defense and Aerospace Innovation, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced a taxpayer-funded drone competition “to drive innovation in autonomous drone technology.”

Whitmer announced the Unmanned Triple Challenge at the Michigan Defense Expo in Warren, where she laid out the competition to “seamlessly transport a package across Michigan traversing air, land, and water,” according to her press office.

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The contest will tap the resources of the Michigan National Guard, Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to fulfill Whitmer’s goal of transforming the state into a leader in the aerospace industry.

“The Unmanned Triple Challenge will unleash innovation in drone technology for a wide range of applications,” Whitmer said. “I’m grateful to the Michigan National Guard, MDOT, and the MDEC for their collaboration to host this competition, which should attract teams from academia, military, government, and the private sector.

“We look forward to welcoming competitors next May, when they will race across land, over water, and in the air to win prizes and, most importantly, bragging rights,” she said. “By leading in this space, we will bring more jobs and investment home so we can keep building the future of mobility right here in Michigan.”

The governor’s announcement did not detail how much the endeavor will cost taxpayers, but it did include glowing praise from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, who leads the Michigan National Guard.

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“Michigan’s legacy in innovation and manufacturing makes it the ideal location to achieve accelerated development and application of autonomous unmanned systems. The Unmanned Triple Challenge is on par with other world class competitions that test the mettle of participants,” he said.

“We look forward to hosting the challenge and incorporating lessons learned by our combat-tested service members,” Rogers continued, “it is exciting to imagine the possibility and create what will become an annual must attend event for the most forward thinking innovators of unmanned systems across commercial, military and recreational interests.”

The competition, which will begin at Rogers City Quarry on May 19, 2025 and run to Camp Grayling, comes two days after Whitmer announced a new Office of Defense and Aerospace Innovation to “help grow the state’s defense and aerospace industry.”

That office “will build on the storied legacy of the Michigan Defense Center, increasing awareness of Michigan’s capabilities, supporting attraction and expansion of businesses that champion Department of Defense-related activities, and enhancing commercial and defense-related aerospace segments for growth,” according to a Whitmer news release.

Michigan reaps about $30 billion in economic activity per year from the defense industry, which supports 116,000 jobs and nearly 4,000 businesses. The Michigan National Guard is comprised of five major installations and additional armories, which includes the National All-Domain Training Center in Grayling and Macomb County’s Selfridge Air National Guard base, one of the largest in the nation, according to Whitmer’s office.

The drone competition follows a similar triple challenge for first responders promoted by President Joe Biden’s National Institute of Standards and Technology that gave away $720,000 in taxpayer money in 2021.

That competition, known as the First Responder UAS Triple Challenge, is one of scores across numerous sectors that pay out federal tax dollars to folks who devise solutions to government problems or support government climate goals.

Competitions listed on Challenge.gov, the federal site “where competition delivers innovation for the public good,” include an AI Cyber Challenge, DOJ Data Challenge, Upskill Prize for the Solar Manufacturing Workforce, Solar Photo Competition, NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge, and Targeted Genome Editor Delivery Challenge, among many others.