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November 11, 2015
Bringing the Future of Unmanned Systems to Virginia

The Virginia Unmanned Systems Commission held its second meeting Thursday at the George Washington University, bringing together public and private sector experts including Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), B.A. ’77, for continued discussion of how to bring the state to the forefront of designing and implementing these developing technologies.

Unmanned systems like automated cars, delivery drones and unmanned cargo ships are expected to expand into a multibillion-dollar industry in coming years.

“I am more convinced than ever that [the unmanned systems industry] is analogous to wireless in the early 1980s—as disruptive and as big,” Sen. Warner said.

According to the executive order issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe when he formed the commission in June, Virginia is home to the eighth largest concentration of unmanned systems firms in the nation and is well placed to strengthen its position.

“Virginia has already succeeded in winning a test-site designation from the Federal Aviation Administration to develop unmanned aerial technologies through the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership,” Gov. McAuliffe wrote. “The sector’s development will align nicely with areas in which the Commonwealth is already a leader, such as data industries, manufacturing and military/civilian government sectors.”

The commission will provide an interim report of recommendations to Gov. McAuliffe at the end of November.

At the meeting, Sen. Warner praised the progress made by the commission since its formation and reminded members to think broadly about the application of unmanned systems, aerial, maritime and terrestrial. But Virginia’s most important job in carving out its place in the industry, he said, would be to identify its unique strengths.

“What’s our expertise? What’s our specialty?” he encouraged commission members to ask, suggesting that one possibility might be developing “beyond line of sight” unmanned aerial vehicles. (Federal Aviation Administration regulations currently require that UAVs may only be flown within visual range, or “line of sight,” of their operator.) But flexibility and adaptability would be key.

“The winner in this deal is going to be whoever is fastest and most nimble,” Sen. Warner said.

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