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August is not the best month to visit Las Vegas. Outside it is 43C, where sunbathers seem to risk second-degree burns. But in a windowless hall of the Mandalay Bay hotel it is blessedly cool, and some 7,400 trade-fair attendees are wandering around futuristic planes and boats. Most of the visitors are men with a smattering in military uniforms, and to the casual observer taking in the scene just one thing might appear odd: many of the aircraft and other vehicles on display lack a cockpit.

Unmanned Systems North America, run by an industry associ…

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