The Pentagon's long spending spree on unmanned aerial systems, or drones, has started to end as budgets tighten.
But less money can be smart money.
The Defense Department has been pushing for off-the-shelf software than can be used across multiple drone platforms. It may be hard to believe, but after all the billions spent on unmanned aircraft, each product line has its own operating system, and they are not compatible. Having a common system would improve interoperability, boost efficiency and drive down costs.
It could also make drones more vulnerable to hacking, which is why it has taken so long for anyone to come up with a solution.
(Read more: Startups, investors bet on drone economy)
A Los Angeles-based start-up, DreamHammer, has created Ballista, which it hopes will become the Windows or Android of unmanned devices in space, air, land and sea.
"There are going to be billions of devices, real hardware systems, tied to this global network," said DreamHammer's CEO and co-founder, Nelson Paez. Creating a common system for drones took the company four years.
"No one has solved that problem," he said. "They didn't solve it in defense, and they've been trying for about 20 years or so."
DreamHammer's software layers onto a product and can be used to do everything from monitoring surroundings, to controlling and moving unmanned aircraft. The program allows apps to be created and added by third parties. It also allows for upgrades to be transmitted, and, for the first time, lets a customer get inside the software and customize it.
"If you wanted to have a satellite look for something, find what it needs to, and then go send a drone to have a high-resolution image on it, the system can 'tip and cue' by itself using our software," Paez said. "Those two worlds don't talk together right now."