The sky might be the limit for the unmanned aircraft industry, but before it takes flight, the engineers, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts trying to build an industry that they say could soon have a $13.6 billion economic impact will have to navigate a tricky route through the offices of regulators and lawmakers—and the court of public opinion.

This is a fact of life for people like Allen Bishop, president and CEO of Reference Technologies. The three-year-old startup is designing and building unmanned aerial systems at its headquarters in Lafayette, CO, a town about 15 minutes east of Boulder.

ReferenceTek is building an autonomous system Bishop believes could revolutionize the way public safety officials respond to emergencies and how physicians deliver medicine in the developing world.

Bishop was showing off his aircraft Tuesday at a demonstration hosted by FreeWave Technologies, a Boulder-based company that makes radios. FreeWave wants to capitalize on what could be a growing industry, and for the prior two days had hosted a gathering of entrepreneurs and researchers to talk shop and show off its creations.

[A note on nomenclature: while the public and media call the vehicles drones, people in the industry shy away from the term. They prefer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the aircraft itself and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the UAVs, ground stations, and communications systems that control them. They also distinguish between military drones equipped with missiles and used in combat with civilian systems.]

The guests and FreeWave’s employees ended the day in the company’s hangar-like break area for flight demonstrations. Bishop, though, began his day in Denver, meeting state legislators to discuss potential new bills UAS advocates believe could make or break the industry in the state.