As the Commonwealth’s first and only association dedicated to lobbying on behalf of all sectors of the unmanned industry, the Unmanned Systems Association of Virginia (USAV) played a key role in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly, helping to protect the industry from efforts that would have created barriers and stymied the growth of the unmanned industry in Virginia. Through these efforts, USAV gained a stronger foothold in establishing itself as the go-to resource for policymakers and industry leaders who would benefit from information, or assistance, in creating policies that are shaping the future of unmanned systems in Virginia.

By actively lobbying pro-industry legislation in the 2017 Virginia General Assembly, as well as working to defeat or amend legislation that would have harmed the industry, USAV helped ensure Virginia’s ranking as pro-growth state for the unmanned industry. But USAV’s work is not done. As the unmanned systems industry continues to grow, it is critical that all industry sectors work together to preserve and protect the industry – a charge USAV will lead as it ensures industry’s voice is heard.

Summarized below is an overview of USAV’s many successes in the 2017 General Assembly and the continued policy work USAV will engage in throughout 2017.

USAV Helps Virginia Become the First State in the Nation to Pass Groundbreaking Unmanned Legislation. With the active support of USAV, Virginia became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to allow unmanned vehicles (robots) on sidewalks. Senate Bill 1207, patroned by Sen. Bill DeSteph, and a companion bill, HB 2016, patroned by Del. Ron Villanueva, authorized the use of unmanned personal delivery devices (PDD) on Virginia’s sidewalks. The legislation, which was advanced by USAV member Starship Technologies, is designed to transform the last mile of delivery and will help open the door to other advanced delivery technologies in the Commonwealth.

USAV Works to Ensure the Future of Autonomous Motor Vehicles in Virginia. USAV worked to ensure that the future of autonomous motor vehicles (AV) in Virginia is not impeded by laws that, while well-intentioned, create unintended barriers to the growth of the AV market. Labeled as distracted driving laws, these types of legislative initiatives can prove burdensome to AVs. Because future AVs may not be equipped with steering wheels, or may require the human passenger to interact with an in-vehicle computer system, laws that require two hands on a steering wheel, or prohibit the use of certain technologies while a vehicle is in motion can have a detrimental impact on AVs. USAV carefully monitored, and worked to amend where necessary, the various texting and distracted driving legislation introduced in the 2017 General Assembly to ensure there were no unintended consequences to the AV industry in Virginia.

USAV Lobbied to Defeat Privacy and Trespass Legislation that Would Have Crippled the UAS Industry. USAV worked to defeat HB 2197, a bill that would have provided a private cause of action and criminal penalties against unmanned aerial vehicle operators who fly over certain “critical infrastructure” in the Commonwealth. Although the protection of airspace over certain manufacturing and defense facilities is extremely important, the bill, as introduced, lacked clarity on the specific facilities that would have been defined as “critical infrastructure” and would have exposed operators to civil and criminal liability for many flights. USAV will continue to work with proponents of this bill to help define an approach that leverages the work currently underway at the FAA, which is seeking to define critical infrastructure and other designated facilities.

USAV Served as the Lead Proponent of Amendments to Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Privacy Legislation. USAV worked collaboratively with members of the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees to amend HB 2350, which creates a new Class 1 misdemeanor criminalizing the actions of unmanned aerial vehicle operators who enter the property of another for the purposes of “peeping” through the window of a dwelling. USAV worked closely with legislators to amend the bill and establish more consistent long-term policy goals by using technology neutral language that did not single out unmanned systems. USAV also led the charge to develop amendments for HB 1602, a bill which created, for the first time, a general statutory right to privacy in Virginia. Under certain conditions, an individual who operated and unmanned aerial vehicle over the property of another could be charged with a violation of this new code provision, even if the purpose of the flight was for a lawful business activity. Although the House committee amended the bill to fix most the issues with the introduced version, the bill failed to pass the full House.

Looking ahead, through continued work with key members of the General Assembly and other relevant stakeholders, USAV will use the summer of 2017 to review safety, privacy and trespass issues associated with unmanned systems legislation to help ensure a balance is maintained between the interests of private landowners and the appropriate certainty and clarity that is needed for a thriving unmanned systems industry in the Commonwealth.

USAV Leading the Way: A Message from USAV Chairman Sean Cushing

The first quarter of 2017 has proven to be a busy time for unmanned systems in Virginia. Not only was the legislature dealing with some significant activity involving the use of ground, aerial and marine UAVs, but there was also a number of important UAV events occurring in the Commonwealth.

Of note, I attended and spoke at two UAV conferences: the VIRTUES II (the VIrginia RoboTics and Unmanned Systems Education Summit) conference on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and the National Public Safety UAS Conference at the King Family Vineyard in Crozet, Va.

The VIRTUES II conference, held on February 10 and hosted by JMU and 4-VA, served as the second in a series of summits with an overarching goal to bring Virginia’s UAV community together to produce actionable objectives toward Governor McAuliffe and Senator Warner’s vision for the New Virginia Economy. The 2017 summit focus was on one of the primary needs identified at 2016 VIRTUES I – strategic coordination between academia and industry. As president of a drone service provider company and a member of the Secure Commonwealth Panel, I represented industry during the summit and shared perspective on balancing public safety with the enormous economic impact that UAVs could potentially have on our statewide economy.

Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) held the first National Public Safety Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Conference February 27 through March 1. Co-sponsored by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the summit convened local, regional, state, national and international first responder, fire rescue and law enforcement organizations with drone service providers, drone manufacturers and trainers to discuss how best to support public safety drone use. I was honored to represent USAV and participate as a panel moderator for a “Policy, Technology and Integration” discussion in which I shared information on legislative initiatives that will affect first responders. I also was able to spend time with first responders and work toward earning my Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Disaster Management certificate from FEMA.

Looking down the road, I believe that the excitement and progress surrounding UAVs will certainly continue. I’m pleased to say that USAV will stay on the frontlines of new developments and continue to promote a legal and regulatory framework that supports innovation, collaboration and growth in the unmanned systems industry in the Commonwealth.

Sean Cushing, president and co-founder of HAZON, is the chairman of USAV.

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