Virginia’s Unmanned Systems Industry Continues to Accelerate

Watch Virginia Unmanned Systems Industry Insights Video

Thanks to its comprehensive flight test sites, miles of open roads, a long coastline with access to open water and world-class rocket launch facilities, Virginia is a natural location to support all domains in the unmanned systems (UxS) industry: air, ground, sea and space. Despite a challenging year due to a worldwide health pandemic and the sluggish economy created by the virus, UxS continued to accelerate in Virginia as the industry accomplished many new milestones and achievements.

The Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) recently produced a video featuring well-respected industry leaders who have incorporated these new technologies into their daily business practices. The presentation illustrates how business and government leaders provide support for the growth of UxS in the Commonwealth as Virginia continues to strive for excellence and success in this innovative industry.

Here are some of the initiatives that resulted in the advancement and expansion of each UxS domain in Virginia during 2020:

Air: Virginia remains a national leader in drone delivery, with Wing’s service in Christiansburg growing by 500% to reach customers staying at home during the pandemic. Virginia Tech expanded on the success of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integrated Pilot Program (IPP) and launched the BEYOND Program to move towards repeatable, scalable, and economically viable Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations for high-demand applications.  DroneUp and UPS flew tests in Brunswick County to also show how UAS can assist with critical deliveries during times of crisis. And the new Virginia Flight Information Exchange is enabling government and public safety agencies to share information with UAS stakeholders through technology partners such as Skyward and other UAS Service Suppliers (USS) to address key safety and policy concerns while keeping the airspace open and secure.   In December, Silent Falcon established its East Coast factory in Front Royal, Virginia. The $6 million facility will focus on research, development and manufacturing activities.  Meanwhile, start-ups like Xelevate, with its new drone test range in Loudoun County, are finding their place in the vast opportunities surrounding UxS in the Commonwealth.

Ground: “Relay,” an autonomous electric shuttle, was deployed with support from Dominion Energy, Fairfax County, and Virginia transportation agencies and research institutions to serve customers between the Mosaic District in Fairfax and the Metrorail station located one mile away. The project is demonstrating the potential economic and environmental benefits and operational efficiencies provided by UxS.

Sea: Huntington Ingalls Industries has established an Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence that is currently under construction in Hampton, Virginia. The company is collaborating with businesses, universities and governments in the Tidewater Region to innovate the centuries-old seafaring industry by developing unmanned vessels, which will create jobs for many Virginians. A partnership between CIT and the Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy (VISA) at Old Dominion University is also exploring new applications of unmanned systems in the maritime environment.  In December, SailPlan, an intelligent maritime navigation platform, announced its innovative system from their offices in Reston, Virginia.

Space: Virginia has a rich history in aeronautics, dating back to the Wright Brothers’ military flight tests at Fort Meyer in Arlington and the mathematicians at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton who determined the hidden figures that were crucial for America’s ambitious journey to the moon and helped facilitate the successful landing of Perseverance on Mars.  Today, the Commonwealth is home to Virginia Space, one of four spaceports in the U.S. that is currently licensed to launch to orbit and is only one of two on the east coast.

Also,  the use of unmanned systems has proven beneficial to first responders during public safety emergencies. Droneresonders, a Virginia-based organization, has grown to more than 3,000 members worldwide, including all 50 states.  The organization champions “drones for good” in the use of UAS by the public safety community in their effort to save lives and resources. Fairfax County has held a series of workshops to educate the public about the safe use of UAS and its life-saving attributes.

For the last two consecutive years, Business Facilities Magazine ranked Virginia the #1 state in the nation for UAS because of its leadership, facilities, and military and civilian industry connections. The Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at CIT supports these critical assets as a primary source for information, grants, partnerships, and seed funding for emerging companies and energetic entrepreneurs throughout the Commonwealth. The Virginia Unmanned Systems Stakeholder Network also provides opportunities for the professional community to exchange ideas and collaborate. To learn more about the center and the program visit www.vus.virginia.gov. or contact Tracy.Tynan@CIT.org.