(TNS) — A university where people are known to greet each other with “Howdy” aims to soon become known for a 21st-century style of communication — between driverless cars.
Texas A&M University is building a $150 million research campus at the former Bryan Air Base, about 10 miles west of the main campus in College Station. The facility also is known as the Riverside Campus.
The renovated campus will emphasize research on driverless cars, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, crash avoidance and other technological improvements to automobiles. The research is expected to include the use of the university’s resources in partnerships with private-sector companies.
“Too many good ideas die between the laboratory and the marketplace, and we want to help you diminish this,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, told about 300 people Monday during a Texas A&M Transportation Technology Conference in College Station.
The conference was hosted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which is known nationwide for its research into traffic fatalities, congestion and high-tech safety improvements.
Technology test beds
Construction has already begun on the facility at the renovated Riverside Campus. When it opens, it will become known as the RELLIS Campus. RELLIS is an acronym for respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service.
The facility also will focus on many forms of cutting edge research including robotics, power grids and water systems, he said.
A secured area will be set aside for companies that wish to keep their ideas quiet before they unveil them to the world.
The university also announced plans to build a $38 million education center that will offer two-year and four-year degrees to students not admitted to A&M’s main campus through affiliations with other universities in the A&M system, Sharp said.
While the new research center is under construction, the proposed education center is still in the planning stage and has yet to be approved by regents, Sharp said.
Sharp told the group attending the technology conference, many representing businesses looking to develop high-tech improvements for cars, that he envisions a time in the not-too-distant future when driverless tractors are plowing fields. He said the university is in discussions with Japan’s Kubota Tractor, which is building a new U.S. headquarters in Grapevine, about performing research at the new campus.
“I am told the average age of the U.S. farmer is 67,” he told the group during a presentation at the George Bush Presidential Library Complex. “That is not old to me, but I am not plowing fields all day long. Unless we create a lot of young farmers, driverless tractors may plow our fields in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, how are we going to feed the world?”
The three-day event features speakers from across the United States. Some are appearing on behalf of manufacturers, while others represent local government agencies.
Many automakers are moving aggressively to incorporate driverless technology into their newest models. General Motors, for example, will offer vehicle-to-vehicle communications on the Cadillac CTS beginning with the 2017 model, which will be unveiled later this year.
Companies are taking the impending arrival of driverless car technology more seriously than customers may realize, said Allie Medack, GM’s chief of staff for global public policy.
“We’re excited by this trend of disruption and GM’s potential to lead in this state,” she said.
Texas Transportation Commission member Victor Vandergriff of Arlington told the group that Texas’ public agencies and its universities were ready to dive into the industry of improved car technology because the private sector is asking for help with the research.
“It’s coming,” Vandergriff said. “It wants to make money here, and we are ready for it.”
©2016 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.