Global, autonomous vehicle collective soars in Wake Forest

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Global, autonomous vehicle collective soars in Wake Forest
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sponsored Town of Wake Forest Wireless Research Center hometown carolina Advanced Mobility Collective Gerry Hayes, CEO and founder of the WRC and co-founder of the AMC, described the Collective as a WRC initiative that focuses on “next-generation mobility and […]


sponsoredTown of Wake ForestWireless Research Centerhometown carolinaAdvanced Mobility Collective

Global, autonomous vehicle collective soars in Wake Forest
Gerry Hayes, CEO and founder of the WRC and co-founder of the AMC, described the Collective as a WRC initiative that focuses on "next-generation mobility and transportation between the air and the ground and transportation on the ground." (Milkos/Big Stock Photo)

This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.

The Wireless Research Center in Wake Forest is both a cutting-edge pillar in the local community and a world-renowned leader in applied research and engineering. This year, the Wireless Research Center amplified its reputation as an innovator by launching the Advanced Mobility Collective.

The Advanced Mobility Collective is “a nonprofit global community of business, technology, government and research partners bringing new mobility services to life. The community is a catalyst for innovation and economic development for connected and autonomous vehicles in the air and on the ground.”

Gerry Hayes, CEO and founder of the WRC and co-founder of the AMC, described the Collective as a WRC initiative that focuses on “next-generation mobility and transportation between the air and the ground and transportation on the ground.”

“It’s an extension of the ubiquitous wireless connectivity ecosystem,” said Hayes. “The Collective is focused on where we’re going in the future in terms of vertical takeoff and landing, and air to ground transportation. It’s the coordination of that and everything that goes along with it — it’s not just the technology, but it’s also the policy, infrastructure and community awareness around it.”

“We recognize that innovation at the caliber happening with the AMC is going to require progressive legislation and infrastructural implementation on behalf of the Town of Wake Forest in order to support the work happening here,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership. “We know our community is poised to be the perfect ecosystem for autonomous vehicle research and design and we’re committed to taking the right steps as an innovative community to make that happen.”

The AMC emphasizes “mobility advancements are already underway across the United States and around the world.”

“New mobility services including unmanned aerial systems [UAS or drones] and urban air mobility systems are revolutionizing the transport of people and goods with highly automated and autonomous transportation of cargo and passengers,” states AMC.org. “Emerging mobility services, including many in use for public safety and emergency management today, range from medical package and food delivery to transportation of people, including airport shuttles, air taxi and air ambulances with electronic vertical takeoff and landing drones [eVTOLs], autonomous vehicles and robotic transportation systems in smart cities.”

“WakeMed has been flying autonomous drone missions to deliver lab samples eight times a day from one part of the hospital to another across campus for the past 19 months. It was the first hospital in the United States to do something like that with special FAA exemption,” said Todd Spain, co-founder and executive director of the AMC. Spain works to facilitate key connections for the AMC and has three decades of experience in the tech industry.

“Dr. Stuart Ginn, who runs that program, and I started thinking about what comes next. That led to conversations with the Town of Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones and a few other leaders in the area,” continued Spain. “As I learned more and more about the subject of this new mobility technology, it just became more obvious that to make anything real happen, we needed to have an organization like the Collective that unites multiple different parts of the ecosystem together around real projects.”

The Collective’s multiple partners work together in unison towards driving real projects in healthcare and other use cases that would be difficult to accomplish on their own.

Spain said with “so many moving parts” from cybersecurity and regulations, to the drones themselves and things like insurance and the physical infrastructure of where these aircraft will land and take off, are a lot to consider for one entity alone.

“No company can know all of this, so the Collective is here to unite our collective partners, and again, work on real and meaningful projects,” said Spain.

However, the regulation of drones and other unmanned vehicles is a relatively new frontier that many municipalities are still trying to figure out, but Wake Forest is ready to dive in.

“Our objectives are for the greater good and for the community good,” said Hayes. “What we want to do is convene partners and come together to have this discussion with municipalities, as well as technology service providers. This kind of communication is the glue for this kind of endeavor.”

Hayes said creating an efficient ecosystem that addresses municipality and citizen concerns about “building highways in the air” is key. This is one of the reasons why the AMC has partnered with a variety of industry leaders and partners to help address these concerns, create policy, and take action.

Partners include organizations such as WakeMed, Causey Aviation Unmanned, Stewart Engineering and others to connect, promote and build up the mission of the Collective. Additionally, the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to local economic development, is exploring ways the Town of Wake Forest can create laws around unmanned systems, while attracting viable industries to the community.

“The Collective gives the WRC another opportunity to be a technical incubator and spur economic development in Wake Forest and the region at large,” said Hayes. “For example, if we create a pilot site for these unmanned vehicles, then companies and other services will want to be part of our ecosystem. This allows Wake Forest to already have assessments in place, provide resources and thought leadership, and puts Wake Forest on that cutting edge.”

Wake Forest, which was once considered a bedroom community, has been steadily approaching the “cutting edge” for the past decade. In addition to having one of the most educated workforces in the region, it is also home to many technology startups and companies, including the internationally recognized WRC.

The WRC, a world leader in global communication technologies, has already proven it can help spur economic development in Wake Forest.

As a larger ecosystem, it’s helped more than 80 startups find their footing or transition to their next phase of business. Additionally, the WRC has been active in air-to-ground communication for the past seven years and has worked with customers such as the Federal Aviation Administration on several projects before, making the AMC a natural extension of its work with the potential to bring even more economic development to the town.

“I think the option for advanced mobility is in the tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide over the next few years,” said Spain. “With this, we have a very real chance to put North Carolina on the map as the very first place that is flying real operations. For businesses in North Carolina to have a place to really grow some of their fantastic ideas that are coming forward as a reality of this opportunity and to attract other businesses to North Carolina in this space is going to be great for Wake Forest.”

The capabilities of drones and other unmanned aircraft are far and wide. Of course, they’re convenient for things the public might typically think of, such as food and package delivery, but both Hayes and Spain mentioned advanced opportunities in industries such as healthcare as well. For example, in some cities in Europe and in the United States, drones are already being used to deliver medicine, defibrillators in emergency situations, or even supplies of blood and small organs.

The AMC is currently working on a Health Map, a concept of operations that will have all the required components to have various autonomous air and ground operations linked to healthcare systems.

“It would include these things that are called eVTOL — electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, that will be flying fairly soon. These flying air taxis can move people, goods, services, supplies, and even organs for transplant. Additionally, the system will also include bots on the ground that are autonomous. We’re working to get management and all the business components in place to actually make this work in the real world,” said Spain. “We’re in conversations with several different healthcare systems at various stages right now about building out this complex multimodal operation over the next few years in hospital systems in North Carolina.”

Drones and other unmanned vehicles, which are equipped with sensors and Internet of Things technology also become an extension of Smart City initiatives, making Smart Cities like Wake Forest even more agile.

Spain described Wake Forest stakeholders and leaders as “very forward-thinking” and said the Town is poised to take advantage of this opportunity to have North Carolina take on digital flight.

“The economic environment, the talent, and the ecosystem we have here — it’s really growing in a fundamentally fast way,” he said. “The economic development opportunity is very clear for Wake Forest and North Carolina.”

Spain emphasized the Collective is looking for additional partners and the AMC presents an opportunity for businesses who are “thinking differently” to get involved and change the world.

“And we’re not just necessarily seeking technology partners alone; it could be law firms, for example, that are interested in this particular law, or sociologists who are studying people. It is a very diverse opportunity,” said Spain.

Looking ahead to the immediate future, Hayes hopes the AMC can become a nationwide resource.

“The goal is to try not to reinvent the wheel and to be able to learn from other communities and share that knowledge,” he said.

sponsoredTown of Wake ForestWireless Research Centerhometown carolinaAdvanced Mobility Collective