From flying cars to driverless trucks to drone deliveries, the future of mobility could change the way we live. But a lot of R&D is needed first, and it’s happening big-time at the Mobility Innovation Zone—the “MIZ”—at AllianceTexas in North Fort Worth. All the MIZ has been missing is some extra Aggie know-how, and now it’s arrived: Dallas-based real estate company Hillwood has announced a research partnership between the MIZ and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).
“Our partnership with TTI is a natural pairing for the next phase of research and development at the MIZ, and we cannot wait to see where our partnership will take us in changing the mobility landscape of the region and nation,” said Ian Kinne, director of logistics innovation for Hillwood, in a statement. “With unmatched expertise in its field, TTI ensures we have the research-backed results needed to not only set the standard for, but also make significant advancements in, budding mobility technology.”
In its new role, TTI will conduct research, manage strategic initiatives, and serve as a think tank for new mobility opportunities at AllianceTexas.
A proving ground like nowhere else
Hillwood believes the MIZ offers something found nowhere else in America: a sprawling proving ground that provides partner organizations the scale, infrastructure, and environment for the commercialization of emerging air and surface mobility technologies.
TTI’s agency director Greg Winfree couldn’t agree more. “The location and capabilities that the MIZ offers provide an unparalleled sandbox for research and development of the technologies that will move business, goods and people forward,” he said in the statement.
Winfree said the research partnership reinforces TTI’s commitment to testing and scaling innovations that impact the way we live.
TTI packs an R&D punch
TTI is America’s largest higher-education-affiliated transportation research agency. Its expertise spans engineering, planning, economics, policy, public engagement, landscape architecture, environmental sciences, data sciences, social sciences, and more.
With all that coming to the MIZ, helping a package deliver itself should be a breeze, right?
The new partnership increases Texas A&M’s presence in Tarrant County, expanding upon TTI’s Arlington office and the Texas A&M Law School in Fort Worth.
Staggering numbers are driving mobility R&D
Think tanks and R&D are about more than pure research. The true destination is commercialization—turning these sci-fi ideas into daily realities by testing and scaling them.
Autonomous trucking could be a huge game-changer in the $1.6 trillion U.S. freight market, since there are currently 20 billion miles of unused truck capacity each year.
The eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) passenger market is projected to grow to $17.7 billion by 2040.
So it’s no wonder that since 2014, there’s been a 76 percent annual growth rate in funding for logistics startups.
Addressing commercialization challenges
Kinne told us the MIZ-TTI partnership will address the challenges of emerging tech commercialization in a multitude of ways, “particularly in how we build infrastructure to support what’s to come [and] how we will inform and advise policymakers, NPOs, and public and private companies on how to regulate and use it.”
The partnership will also address “how we work with other businesses applying mobility innovation so we can all work together to improve supply chain, efficiency, quality of life, and better use of public funds in the transportation system,” he said.
For instance, Kinne says the MIZ will be focusing on the eventual adoption and commercialization of eVTOL passenger taxi services, so it’s coordinating with NASA and the FAA on that.
Tech pioneers now at work at the MIZ
While TTI unpacks their bags, other tech pioneers are already deep into projects at AllianceTexas. In February, Fort Worth-based Bell Textron launched its Autonomous Pod Transport operations, offering the first point-to-point unmanned aircraft system package delivery demonstration in North Texas.
Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple also has an active presence at Alliance Texas, offering autonomous trucking operations that run throughout the “Texas Triangle” freight corridor.
Other announced partners currently operating in the MIZ include Kodiak, ITS ConGlobal, BNSF, Phantom, Gatik, Deloitte, and Embark.
Then there are the shhhhhh! companies—some MIZ projects are veiled by NDA secrecy. Kinne says they will help address “the entire mobility pipeline from first mile, last mile, middle mile, logistics and inland port operations.” We hope to be able to report on them in the future.
The biggest surprise: it’s all coming fast
We asked Kinne what will surprise people most about mobility innovation. His answer: the speed and scale in which it will be deployed in things like autonomous long-haul trucking.
“We’ll see large advancements surrounding first and last mile technologies and the infrastructure in and around ports,” he said, “and also the advancement of unmanned aircraft systems in the delivery of packages.”
Texas will be one of the first to see big changes.
“We’ll see ancillary and tangent infrastructure improvements in energy and electrification, the deployment of next generation data and wireless communications such as broadband, and long-haul network capacities and utilization,” Kinne told us.
“We’ll also see the next iteration of 5G, and our private or public wireless communications networks will be even more robust. Given that, we’ll also see an increased demand for local data centers. Overall, this will enhance the efficiency, reliability and resiliency we’ve built into the supply chain, which will benefit customers of all levels.”
Private capital is leading the way
It takes money to drive all this, and Kinne says there’s so much flowing now, it’s driving up the speed of change.
“Presently, we’re in an unparalleled situation as private capital is leading the development and advancement of emerging mobility and automation technologies at extraordinarily fast levels,” he said. “Private investors are pushing for the adoption of new technology very quickly.”
Kinne says the MIZ is uniquely positioned as the ‘do tank’ that allows companies to commercialize advanced logistics solutions in a supportive and collaborative environment.
AllianceTexas’ multi-modal platform
AllianceTexas is a 27,000-acre industrial, mixed-use, and residential development. Its air and ground logistics assets include a premier intermodal hub, urban airspace at Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport, and interoperability across supply chain nodes—enabling a full spectrum of endeavors from first to last mile.
In addition, AllianceTexas says it is home to more than 525 companies which have built more than 50 million square feet and created over 62,000 jobs.
Why North Texas is an innovation leader
“in North Texas, the existing infrastructure is extremely unique, and our businesses in the region, and AllianceTexas in particular, are unparalleled in their willingness and cooperation to improve resiliency and reliability,” Kinne said.” North Texas has long been a leading market for trucked freight as well as boasts a deep aerospace workforce.”
“There’s no better place for innovators to move from research and development to testing and commercialization, and we believe that the MIZ is the best positioned environment to give these emerging technologies the wings to fly.”
Now that the Texas A&M Transportation Institute is on the case, a lot more action—and breaking news—may be flying out of there soon.