Drone company announces Virginia expansion and college partnership
Walmart announced in May that it was partnering with DroneUp to bring drone deliveries to 4 million homes by the end of the year, with packages sent aloft from local store-based delivery centers and then gently lowered by cable to the customer’s yard. Packages, which are limited to 10 pounds, arrive in as little as 30 minutes for an airmail delivery charge of $3.99. During initial testing, Walmart found that the most popular item ordered this way was Hamburger Helper.
DroneUp initially plans to establish 34 delivery centers, including three in Virginia.
DroneUp founder Tom Walker stood alongside Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) at the Executive Mansion to unveil the plans during a ceremony that showed off the technology by having a drone deliver a box in cardboard containing a state flag for the governor to present to the executive. The drone operators seemed eager to take no chances of accidentally hitting the dignitaries, with the buzzing drone setting the box several feet away from where Youngkin and Walker were standing.
“We launched what is today the largest drone technology services company in the United States…and today we celebrate further expansion and the opening of the first and most advanced training center of expert drone pilots in the world,” Walker said. “And we did it all here in Virginia.”
Youngkin presented the plans as a coup for high-tech higher education to Richard Bland as much as an economic development victory.
“Together, they will deliver a state-of-the-art drone pilot training program to expand the unmanned aircraft systems workforce in Virginia,” Youngkin said, describing the partnership to a large crowd of DroneUp officials and state employees. “It’s a new model for higher education and economic development coming together in the Commonwealth of Virginia and Petersburg.”
Richard Bland is a two-year public college affiliated with William & Mary in Williamsburg. Its campus straddles Petersburg and Prince George and Dinwiddie counties. The center of DroneUp would be located in the Dinwiddie part.
The announcement builds on a Youngkin made on Monday, when he unveiled an unusual partnership between the state and municipal, civic, religious and educational leaders in Petersburg, an economically struggling city south of Richmond. During the event, Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera presented a plan for Richard Bland and Virginia State University to create a K-12 “lab school” in Petersburg in partnership with the local school system.
Youngkin unveils unusual partnership to solve problems in Petersburg
As supporters promote lab schools as a way for colleges and universities to bring innovation to K-12 classrooms, the partnership between Richard Bland and DroneUp aims to help the college and its graduates by aligning the school’s courses more closely with industry needs.
“DroneUp’s work complements Richard Bland College’s ongoing efforts to develop a curriculum for an unmanned aviation program,” said Dinwiddie County Supervisory Board Chairman Harrison A. Moody.
Debbie L. Sydow, president of Richard Bland, said the college and the company “share a vision to deliver a world-class drone pilot training program to expand the [unmanned aircraft systems] workforce in Virginia and throughout the country.
Youngkin said Virginia competed successfully with Arizona, New York, North Carolina and Texas for the projects, which received a number of incentives to move into the Commonwealth. Youngkin approved a $928,000 Commonwealth Opportunity Fund grant and a $4 million Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant. The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission also approved a $111,000 grant.
“Virginia is our home, and we’re proud that we can continue to bring new innovation, talent, and economic opportunity to our great state,” said Walker, who founded DroneUp as a startup in 2016. “This This investment and expansion will not only bring new career opportunities to our region, but also allow us to tap into the brightest minds in the development and design of unmanned aircraft systems.