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  • Matthew Chang

Jacksonville positioned to be knowledge hub for autonomous systems

Duval is the nation’s knowledge hub – or better said – it can be. Knowledge hub for what exactly? Autonomous systems.


Autonomous vehicles, aircraft, software, and robots are proliferating. The world is abuzz with hype about A.I. and an automated future. Autonomous systems are going to be a transformational part of the future and our human experience in that future.


There’s nothing new here. The Jetsons, Star Wars, and The Terminator all envisioned futures with autonomous robots. The future they envisioned is here.


There are two disciplines at play here:

1. Design - the ability to design, program, and build an autonomous unit of 1

2. Coordination - coordinate the autonomous units into collaborative symphonies


I believe that Jacksonville is on the leading edge of the second discipline and with a little focus from our community can be the national, perhaps global, leader of autonomous systems. That leadership will lead to the establishment of one of the most important knowledge hubs in the advancement of humankind.


What is a knowledge hub exactly? It’s a little bit different than our classical progress definitions of economic development, academic research, and industry investment. A knowledge hub is the collection of cross-functional people who are each experts in a field, but their combination in a collaborative and open forum leads to innovation.


Not incremental innovation. Step-function innovation. Logarithmic innovation.


By assembling these people and giving them an ecosystem within which they can create we will have created the knowledge hub. I forgot to mention, we already have a key ingredient to the equation – a great place to live! Once the folks establish roots here, they are not going to leave. What are the different areas of expertise required in Duval to establish ourselves as an autonomous systems knowledge hub? We need experts in robotics, workforce development, computer programming, artificial intelligence, power systems, and industrial computing.


We have local companies investing in each of those areas right now — NLP Logix, Miller Electric, Bootleg Advisors, Renaissance Jax, Blue Vigil, Urban SDK, Source Fuse ... . Those are local companies that are distinguishing themselves on a global basis in their expertise.


What are the key ingredients to building a knowledge hub for autonomous systems? It requires a true public private partnership between government, academia, and private sector.


Who has skin in the game? Jacksonville University is exploring curriculum for autonomous systems engineering. UNF has an area leading robotics program. Smart North Florida is piloting technology and IoT projects in all metropolitan counties. FSCJ announced a workforce development training program for autonomous vehicles. Two area hospitals have embarked on autonomous robot implementations. St Augustine is deploying a citywide smart parking system.


The grand-daddy of them all is JTA’s fully funded driverless transit project, which is the largest funded autonomous transit project in the world.


What do we need to do? We need to form community around each of these individual contributors. We need to double down on a sense of entrepreneurialism, boldness, and innovative spirit. And we need to celebrate each success and learn from each failure. The goal is the establishment of Jacksonville as national and world center for autonomous systems.


What’s in it for us? A cooler place to live, higher wages, more start-up companies, investment in our community, and a better future for all of our residents. I hope you’ll join me.



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