Virginia’s government drone initiative just got fueled by a $1.5 million grant to develop a research institute dedicated to autonomous systems.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced the grant in a press release last week. The grant stems from the Virginia Research Investment Fund in what Northam says is second-round funding.
The three-year grant will fund the Commonwealth Center of Innovation for Autonomous Systems (C2IAS). The center is a collaboration with Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University. Virginia Tech is also a participant in the UAS Integration Pilot Program.
Over the first year of the grant, private companies will collaborate and invest more than $2.2 million in matching funds. Companies include UAVPro, Atlas-NA, Burton-LeRoy, Cambrian Design and Development, Procomm Aviation, Sanchez Engineering Services, SimIS and Textron.
“Virginia’s colleges and universities enjoy a strong record of cutting-edge research and we are proud to support the development of new technologies with promising commercial prospects, especially in the area of unmanned autonomous systems,” Northam said.
“Innovative projects and public-private partnerships like these will help bolster the Commonwealth’s leading position in the unmanned autonomous systems industry, advance the application of these technologies and reinforce our continued work to expand and diversify the Commonwealth’s economy.”
Peter Blake, Director of the State Council of Higher Education, added the center will develop unmanned systems for first responders, infrastructure inspection, maritime systems and more.
The second-round competition invites proposals for capacity-building projects at research centers in the strategic opportunity areas of small satellites, autonomous systems, big data, cybersecurity and life sciences.
Along with states like Nevada, the Commonwealth continues to invest heavily in the drone and unmanned tech sector.
Last month, drugstore chain Walgreens and Alphabet UAV spinoff Wing chose the town of Christianburg to test pilot drone-delivery project. The store-to-door program will deliver 100 select products to Walgreens customers including food, beverages and over-the-counter medicine via the Wing app.
In 2018, Northam signed a bill into law prohibiting local governments from enacting drone-facing regulations.
The state is also considering using empty mines as possible drone racing or recreational flying spaces in addition to new UAV test sites. In addition, commonwealth leaders continue to promote drone careers as an alternative to the dying coal industry.