John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, has unveiled plans to invest US$150m to create a new research and development campus that will help companies move ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace, with the new center focusing on robotics, autonomous vehicles and other transportation projects, while also offering a new path toward a college degree.
The site for the new campus is the former Bryan Air Base, a World War II facility that Texas A&M University acquired in 1962, and today is called the Riverside Campus. In September 2015, the 2,000-acre tract was transferred to The Texas A&M University System and will now be named RELLIS Campus, from an acronym for the Texas Aggies’ core values of respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service. The new campus initially will include a cluster of seven new buildings and testbeds to encourage the private sector to develop secure research facilities adjacent to the system’s site.
The focus will include robotics, driverless and connected vehicles, advanced manufacturing and large-scale testing, as well as smart power grids and water systems. The initial US$150m investment includes US$25m to demolish 32 old buildings, rebuild roads and update utilities. The base’s chapel and two hangars will be renovated in recognition of the site’s role of training pilots for World War II. Chancellor Sharp estimated as many as 10,000 students eventually could be studying at the RELLIS Gateway Center, as the education center would be called. Consultants are surveying the site and the US$25m in upgrades should be completed by the end of 2017. Construction on the first building could begin as early as September 2016.
The three primary tenants at the new campus are state agencies that are part of the Texas A&M System: The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). Many of the researchers at the state agencies are also faculty members at Texas A&M University.
The initial US$125m in new construction for the RELLIS Campus includes:
The US$73m Center for Infrastructure Renewal, authorized by the Texas Legislature, which will develop new methods and better materials for the USA’s ailing infrastructure and train the private sector in how to apply new techniques and materials; A US$12m Advanced Research in Transportation Technology Building for research, design and testing in the growing field of automated and connected vehicles; A US$12m Cyber-Physical Research and Development Center that will be dedicated to robotics, autonomous and connected vehicle technologies, and associated cyber-security facets; A US$9m centralized office and research facility that will be constructed for TEES; A US$6m Industrial Distribution Center that will investigate the best way to manufacture and distribute products; TEEX’s US$7m training facility, primarily for law enforcement.
“We must offer new, transformative business models, whether we are moving our research from the laboratories into the marketplace, or helping more students to achieve a college education,” said Sharp. “It is a big idea and it is important that the Texas A&M University System nurtures big ideas. This will be a magnet for technology companies locating their research facilities to the Brazos Valley and for thousands of additional students to study here, contributing to the local economy. It’s a great one-two punch for economic development.”