The time has come for research colleges and universities to invest in and create 5G and cyber research labs to explore innovation, education, and training around future technologies.
In response to poor farming practices leading to food shortages and insect plagues in the nineteenth century, Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Acts into law in 1862. The act effectively created the research and innovation campus concept to solve societal issues and ushered in the philosophies of German educational reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt. Seen as a radical in his time, Humboldt theorized that research labs coupled with lecture halls at higher education institutions would foster ideation and innovation practices that would ultimately benefit society. Was the 1862 act a success? Absolutely! After a U.S. farming and agriculture industry turnaround, the U.S. research and innovation campus era began. There are 112 land-grant research and innovation campuses in the United States today.Footnote1 Many of these colleges and universities have not only solved potential societal catastrophes but have also created life-altering inventions that have affected global economies.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."Footnote2 As an advisor working with U.S. research and innovation colleges and universities and a citizen watching daily news feeds, I often find myself thinking of George Santayana's famous quote and Abraham Lincoln's foresight to create a framework for a more equitable society. Today, our nation is experiencing similar societal challenges—from news headlines reporting cyberattacks on public and private higher education institutions to articles and reports questioning the country's competitive standing in the global race. These challenges alone hold tremendous weight when it comes to the livelihoods of citizens nationwide, including the economic impacts of cyber events or the growth of emerging industries to stay competitive in the technology marketplace.
Implications for U.S. research and innovation colleges and universities. U.S. research and innovation colleges and universities are in a prime position to respond and act. The importance of good cybersecurity hygiene needs no illustration, and the potential for next-generation technologies such as 5G means new and innovative research with endless possibilities. As we enter the era of 5G, we can expect a quantum leap in connectivity with experiences such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), self-driving cars, telemedicine, and smart cities. Industries such as health care, defense, manufacturing, and transportation will be forever transformed.
With the unprecedented influx of funding from federal and state governments, due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, now is the time for research universities to invest in and create 5G and cyber research labs where both public and private sector participants can explore research to promote innovation, education, and training around future technologies.
U.S. Research and Innovation Campus Spotlight: Texas A&M University System RELLIS Campus
Texas A&M University System's RELLIS Campus exemplifies a new era of innovation in education. Located ten miles from the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) main College Station campus on a two-thousand-acre tract of land that was originally the Bryan Army Air Field, RELLIS is a state-of-the-art research facility architected to support defense, public safety, transportation, energy, industry, and agriculture applications.
After receiving grant funding from the Texas Legislature, the TAMUS RELLIS campus worked with AT&T to develop a one-of-a-kind 5G research testbed. Opened in May 2022, the testbed comprises three outdoor private 5G network cores enabling the development of innovative 5G-powered applications and solutions. One of the network cores is dedicated to cybersecurity, enabling private and public researchers to bring their applications, plug in, and hack away to preemptively identify and test risks. Additional societal-impacting use cases and economic growth case studies include the following:
- Autonomous Vehicles, Roadside Safety, and Precision Agriculture: Research will directly impact various fields, including ground and air transportation. Researchers can test the use of smart intersection grids that allow sensor and human inputs for decision-making on the road; navigation that enables a vehicle to be aware of its surroundings for safe operations; and precision agriculture that helps farmers determine when and how to plant, fertilize, and harvest.
- Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR): Research can focus on the defense and manufacturing fields. Within military training settings, researchers can test AR/VR for delivering timely and efficient information to soldiers in training areas and real-time environments. In manufacturing, researchers can explore how machines utilize AR to learn and diagnose problems efficiently.
- Robotics: Robotic applications continue to grow in the consumer, manufacturing, and health care industries. Robotics use cases can focus on how robots navigate physical barriers (such as doors and stairs) in daily life and interact with humans. Within health care, researchers can examine how robotics could improve access to quality health care and surgery in remote areas and other countries.
Call to Action
U.S. higher education research and innovation campuses have the foundation and framework to solve current and future challenges facing our society. History has shown the power of transformation and problem-solving when the government, higher education, and the private sector work together. Whether these entities are addressing technological, economic, or environmental trends, the key to success is open collaboration and communication among all stakeholders working together on a mutual path forward. Our country and society depend on all of us—government, higher education, and private sector stakeholders—working together to lead the way.
- "Map of Land Grant Universities," Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) (website), accessed September 1, 2022. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- George Santayana, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress, vol. 1, Reason in Common Sense (New York: Dover, 1905–1906). Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
Jake Stine is Senior Director of Strategy, Innovation, and Design at AT&T.
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