Work group to study autonomous technology center in Western Md.

By MIKE LEWIS
mlewis@crossroadsbizjournal.com

An eight-member work group is exploring how to develop a Western Maryland Autonomous Technology Center.

Appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, the group is working from a feasibility study partially funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The commission in Maryland is focused on self-sustaining economic development and job growth in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties.

“The aim of this work group is really to see how we can implement some of the recommendations of the study,” said Guy Winterberg, assistant director of the Tri-County Council of Western Maryland and member of the work group.

The term “autonomous technologies” covers a lot of territory, from unmanned aerial systems and connected autonomous vehicles to industrial robotics, cybersecurity and data analysis.

“It’s definitely a growing field that requires more resources,” Winterberg said.

Providing those resources also could provide economic opportunities.

As part of the feasibility study, the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland evaluated the technical, economic and regulatory feasibility of a potential autonomous technology center in Western Maryland.

The study included identifying industry interest, analyzing market potential, selecting technology areas and determining facility needs.

Researchers contacted a variety of business, governmental and academic organizations to gather ideas and input. The center, if it comes about, probably will not try to address every need of every organization, Winterberg said.

“Different groups have different needs. … We’re kind of trying to explore what would be the best fit,” he said.

For example, the report notes that the West Virginia University navigation lab would need the facility to support research endeavors, rather than one that is solely industry-based. The lab is also looking for a research center designation from a federal or state agency.

“Volvo Trucks (which has a production facility in Washington County) is less interested in solely testing autonomous trucks; instead, it is interested in basic drivability of vehicles and emission testing,” the report states. “Having a test track would be a major asset if it could maintain interstate speeds and have larger shoulders or multiple lanes to accommodate trucks.”

According to a news release, the work group will make recommendations based on the initial findings of the feasibility study such as determining a potential site location, identifying possible funding sources and refining design and cost estimates for construction.

The work group also is to identify partnership opportunities and set specific needs based on feedback from the entities that would use the facility.

The group is to partner with Frostburg State University and local community colleges to create workforce training programs and collaborate with local private sector employers.

Wendi Peters, special secretary of smart growth and the governor’s alternate for the Appalachian Regional Commission, chairs the work group, Winterberg said.

At a glance …

The eight members of the work group exploring how to develop a Western Maryland Autonomous Technology Center include:

Wendi Peters, special secretary of smart growth and Gov. Larry Hogan’s alternate for the Appalachian Regional Commission

Bill Atkinson, Appalachian Regional Commission program manager, Maryland Department of Planning

Jeffrey Barclay, director, Allegany County Economic Development

Matt Miller, economic specialist, Cumberland Economic Development Corp.

Albert Delia, vice president for regional development and engagement, Frostburg State University

Ken McCreedy, senior director, office of cybersecurity and aerospace, Maryland Department of Commerce

Elizabeth Stahlman, director of community development, City of Frostburg