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Boeing to Open Autonomous Aircraft and Vehicles Research Facility at MIT

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【Summary】Called the Aerospace and Autonomy Center, the aircraft maker plans to use the site to support a plethora of cutting-edge research projects involving autonomous flight and driverless vehicles.

Michael Cheng    Aug 09, 2018 3:44 PM PT
Boeing to Open Autonomous Aircraft and Vehicles Research Facility at MIT
author: Michael Cheng   

Boeing's commitment to developing pilotless aircrafts is finally starting to take off. Earlier this month, the leading aircraft manufacturer announced it will establish a research hub at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Called the Aerospace and Autonomy Center, the company plans to use the site to support a plethora of cutting-edge research projects involving autonomous flight and driverless vehicles. Additionally, Boeing's partners and subsidiaries will also utilize the location to host new programs and collaborations.

Kendall Square Initiative

The research facility will be based in Kendall Square, a technological ecosystem comprised of six sites. Boeing intends to lease a 100,000 square-foot space inside a building that is currently under heavy development. The building, specifically located at 314 Main Street, is strategically located for accessibility to the research center. If construction is completed according to schedule, the hub will be fully operational by 2020.

"Boeing is leading the development of new autonomous vehicles and future transportation systems that will bring flight closer to home," said Greg Hyslop, Boeing's Chief Technology Officer, in an announcement.

"By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem."

Boeing has deep ties with the educational institution, as a handful of the company's current leaders and engineers came from MIT, including Wong Tsu – the establishment's first engineer employed by Bill Boeing (founder of the business). At the moment, the aircraft maker employs roughly 800 MIT alumni worldwide.

To further solidify the company's presence at MIT, it has pledged $18 million to build a sophisticated wind tunnel for aerospace research. The facility is designed to replace the iconic Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel, which is over 80 years old. Sections of the old wind tunnel will be preserved at the MIT Museum.

Boeing NeXt and Aurora Flight Sciences

At the new research center, Boeing will host projects with Aurora Flight Sciences – a subsidiary of the company (under Boeing Engineering). The focus of the programs includes autonomous flight research, machine learning, robotic aircrafts and driverless vehicles (pilotless flying cars and compact aircrafts).

Since its inception in 1989, Aurora has produced and tested over 30 pilotless aircraft platforms. Interestingly, the innovative subsidiary is already based in Kendall Square, with branches in Mississippi, Ohio, California and Switzerland.

"We're collaborating and cooperating with a variety of people in the marketplace," cited Steve Marsh, Managing Director at MIT Investment Management.

"There are other like-minded companies that want to be located close in proximity to MIT."

Boeing NeXt projects will also be facilitated at the research hub. The organization's primary objective is the development of technologies for smart cities and connected transportation.

For example, one of the programs under the group aims to create a ‘next-generation airspace management system' that safely and efficiently combines networks of autonomous vehicles with manned aircrafts. Furthermore, Boeing NeXt's broad range of expertise covers flying taxis, cargo drones and aerial traffic control platforms.

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