Gov. Whitmer Announces Unmanned Triple Challenge, A Drone Competition Over Land, Water, and Air in 2025

Governor's Office

Thursday, April 25, 2024

New competition announced at Michigan Defense Exposition will bolster state’s mobility leadership and spur innovation in autonomous technology sector, attracting more investment and jobs

WARREN, MI – Today, at the Michigan Defense Expo (MDEX), Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the Unmanned Triple Challenge, a state-sponsored competition to drive innovation in autonomous drone technology. Entrants will be tasked with using unmanned, autonomous drones to seamlessly transport a package across Michigan traversing air, land, and water. The Michigan National Guard, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) are partnering on the competition.

“The Unmanned Triple Challenge will unleash innovation in drone technology for a wide range of applications,” said Governor Whitmer. “I’m grateful to the Michigan National Guard, MDOT, and the MEDC 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. 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.”

“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,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “We look forward to hosting the challenge and incorporating lessons learned by our combat-tested service members,” continued Rogers, “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.”

Unmanned Triple Challenge
Companies across the nation, including many in Michigan, are working on the next generation of drones for a wide variety of defense, civilian, and commercial uses. These drones deliver medicine to isolated communities, support military personnel on the front lines, and transport critical manufacturing components to cut down on production delays. With the Unmanned Triple Challenge, Michigan is making its mark in this sector, which will drive investment and job growth. Participants from industry, academia, military, and governments are encouraged to participate in the challenge which will be held from May 19 to 22, 2025. The competition begins at Rogers City Quarry, goes through the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, and ends at Camp Grayling.

Office of Defense and Aerospace Innovation
On Monday, Governor Whitmer joined the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to announce the new Office of Defense and Aerospace Innovation (ODAI), which will help grow the state’s defense and aerospace industry. ODAI 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 poised for growth. The office also announced Col. John Gutierrez, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) as its new executive director. Col. Gutierrez brings more than thirty years of experience in acquisition, operational, and joint assignments to ODAI.

Michigan Aerospace Leadership
Michigan has become one of the top states in the nation for aerospace. It is home to the Unmanned AerialSystems Consortium (MUASC), supporting the development of Unmanned Aerial Systems through coordinated services, access to unique airspace and diverse geography. Additionally, there are seven FAA UAS Test Sites in Michigan.

When it comes to state rankings:

  • Michigan is within the Top 10 in the nation for aerospace manufacturing attractiveness.
  • Michigan is home to more than 600 aerospace-related companies.
  • Michigan has the 6th largest advanced manufacturing workforce in the country, with more than 62,800 workers employed in advanced manufacturing industries in 2023.
  • Michigan leads the nation in concentration of employment for commercial and mechanical engineers.
  • The University of Michigan boasts the No. 3 ranked undergraduate aerospace engineering program in the country.
  • Michigan is home to two lightweight materials manufacturing U.S.A. institutes.
  • Michigan has the highest concentration of electrical and mechanical engineers in the nation.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit For Pure Michigan® tourism information, your trip begins at Join the conversation on: Facebook Instagram LinkedIn, and Twitter.