August 29, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Robot Technology Park: The Next Silicon Valley?

Published: Sunday, August 28, 2011
Brennen Smith/The Decatur Daily
A robot cruises around during the grand opening of Phase 2 of the Alabama Robotics Technology Park in Decatur.

A developer of the Alabama Robotics Technology Park is expecting the impact of the newly constructed Phase 2 will be huge for the economy.

Jason Putman, chairman of the robotics park executive board, believes this is the phase, with its research and development focus, that could begin the predicted economic development that will change the region.

The park on U.S. 31 is a partnership of the Alabama Industrial Development and Training Institute and Calhoun Community College.

Putman said the new $8.3 million research and development center could create an area similar to the Research Triangle in North Carolina or Silicon Valley in California.

“This gives the area an opportunity to take research and development in robotics to another level,” Putman said.

AIDT Executive Director Ed Castile said his agency and other state industrial development groups are using the robotics park in recruiting.

He wouldn’t say who the prospects are, but added there is legitimate interest in relocating.

“This adds another pretty powerful recruiting weapon to our arsenal,” Castile said.

Putman said he has already seen the park aid economic development. He said the park was one of the reasons Polyplex gave this summer for moving to Decatur.

He said it may be awhile, however, before the area really gets an economic development payoff from the park. Putman expects the impact on the average citizen will of Alabama Robotics Technology Park will be more high-tech training and high-tech jobs that pay more.

Calhoun President Marilyn Beck said the academic impact of Phase 2 on her college is it will provide internships that are usually available only at universities.

The new research and development center features four large bays with a one-mile test track. The bays are large open areas in which the only amenities are technologies like Internet connections and electricity.

“The object is that new ground-breaking technology in robotics and automation could be developed,” Castile said.

While developing the center’s concept, Castile and others sought input from potential customers. He said they needed a place to be off-site and off-line so they could do research and development without interrupting daily operations.

Castile said the track, which features a paved area that would allow an unmanned vehicle get up to 40 mph and dirt area, is a key component.

There are plans to later to build an observation tower, add a sand area and build a small concrete block house with stairs.

Currently, testing requires finding a track, loading up the test vehicle and traveling. This costs time and money, Castile said.

The customers wanted a place where they could “roll up the door and test their robots without having to travel,” he said.

Potential customers include defense contractors with grants from the U.S. Department of Defense and Homeland Security.

Local manufacturers could use the facility to develop a new process or line so that shutdowns would be shorter, thus saving money.

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