Warner secures $15M for unmanned systems research

virginia tech logoThe Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will receive $15 million in federal funding to support research on safe automated driving integration.

The funding, from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), follows aggressive advocacy by Sen. Mark Warner, who personally pressed Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to grant Virginia the maximum award possible to continue the Commonwealth’s leadership in the growing unmanned systems industry.

“I’ve long called for increased funding for unmanned systems research because I know that innovation and advancement in this field can boost U.S. competitiveness, increase efficiency, and ultimately, improve lives across the globe,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur. “With new technologies, and particularly with automated driving systems, it’s important to get safety right the first time. That’s why I’m so excited to announce that this federal funding will support VTTI in continuing to safely blaze the trail for the future of transportation.”

“New technologies like automated vehicles create exciting opportunities, as well as some challenges, and there is no better place to hone our understanding of these issues than the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. From auto safety testing to road design to the incorporation of new technology into our transportation network, VTTI is the gold standard, and these grants will go toward research that will incur long-term benefits for the Commonwealth and beyond,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

“Receiving these prestigious awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation is an honor and fantastic for Virginia Tech and Virginia. Over the years, VTTI has established itself as a global leader for automated vehicle evaluation and development. We are very happy to take these important steps to move automated vehicles forward to save lives, improve mobility across the population, and reduce the impact of vehicle emissions,” said Tom Dingus, director of VTTI and endowed professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech.

The funding is comprised of two $7.5 million grants that will support two VTTI projects. One project will seek to define, develop, and demonstrate key dynamic scenarios and their potential solutions for safe interaction of vehicles equipped with automated driving systems in a Northern Virginia corridor optimized for vehicle automation. The other will seek to develop and demonstrate a Fleet Concept of Operations to provide the trucking industry with clear guidelines on how to safely implement, and benefit from trucks equipped with automated driving systems.

The grants were awarded through the Automated Driving System (ADS) Demonstration Grants program, which provides federal funding to demonstration projects that test the safe integration of automated driving systems into the Nation’s on-road transportation system. These grants aim to gather significant safety data to inform rulemaking, foster collaboration amongst state and local government and private partners, and test the safe integration of ADS on U.S. roads. 

Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate for research and investment in unmanned systems, including driverless cars, drones, and unmanned maritime vehicles. Last year, he helped ensure Virginia’s participation in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP). He also introduced a successful bipartisan amendment to double funding for unmanned aircraft systems and introduced bipartisan legislation designed to advance the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). 

Last month, Sen. Warner joined local and industry leaders at Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise, Va. to unveil a sign marking the first FAA-approved unmanned aircraft system delivery in the United States in 2015.

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