Mark Blanks, the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, is speaking Tuesday at a workshop on unmanned aircraft systems organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

The first event of its kind hosted by the White House, the workshop brings together experts and stakeholders from industry, academia, and government to advance unmanned aircraft systems integration into the national airspace — and explore the near- and long-term implications of a technology that has the potential to save lives, enable high-impact research, create new jobs and industries, and improve the way many existing industries operate.

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Blanks, who directs Virginia Tech’s Federal Aviation Administration-designated test site for unmanned aircraft systems, will participate in a panel on defining and advancing technological progress and assessment.

“We are at a critical point in unmanned aircraft systems research — the technology is advancing rapidly, and we need to continue making the safety case for integration,” Blanks said. “At the test site, we are at the intersection of cutting-edge research, industry challenges, and policy and standards development. Bringing all these stakeholders to the table is essential for this technology to reach its tremendous potential, and we’re honored to be part of this national conversation.”

Virginia Tech’s test site for unmanned aircraft systems — one of only six selected by the Federal Aviation Administration — opened in 2014. The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) runs the test site, and their pioneering research across disciplines has positioned the university as a leader in a field expected to transform many sectors of the economy.

MAAP’s research tackles the challenges that are critical to the safe, evidence-based integration of unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace, including flights beyond visual line-of-sight, detect-and-avoid technology, and flight operations over people.

They have made major contributions to developing applications for unmanned aircraft systems in fields as diverse as journalism, agriculture, energy infrastructure, and emergency management. Some of the partnership’s groundbreaking missions include the first research flights investigating medical supply delivery to remote locations and work with NASA to research a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft.

“We are immensely proud of what MAAP has accomplished in just two years,” said Stefan Duma, the Harry Wyatt Professor of Engineering and the director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, where MAAP is headquartered. “They connect world-class research by Virginia Tech faculty and students to practical challenges faced by companies exploring applications for unmanned aircraft systems. It’s solutions-based innovation that will have a real impact on an important industry.”

The morning’s panel discussions will cover topics such as the role of data and research in policymaking and innovative new applications for unmanned aircraft systems. Speakers include representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, universities, and companies, including Google and Lockheed Martin.

The panel discussions will be followed in the afternoon by flight demonstrations, which are supported by MAAP, and policy workshops on such topics as airspace management, privacy, and future rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft.

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