Editorial: Virginia Tech’s vehicle research represents another piece of the future
Detroit became the center of the (old) automobile industry because that’s where early auto-tinkerers and entrepreneurs such as Ransom Olds, Henry Leland and Henry Ford were. But there’s no guarantee that’s where the car industry of the future will be, any more than there’s a guarantee that those cars will be made by existing carmakers. In fact, if GM is doing its research in Silicon Valley and Seattle, and Alphabet is doing its research there, as well, then there’s a good chance the next Detroit won’t be in Detroit.
So where will it be? We don’t know, but we do know this: An interesting amount of research into the vehicles of the future is taking place in the New River Valley. In 1986, Roanoke Mayor Noel Taylor proposed a shortcut to Blacksburg to more closely link the two valleys. In 1989, Roanoke County Supervisor Dick Robers proposed an addendum based on a story he’d read in The Wall Street Journal: Use that new road as a test bed for high-tech vehicle research. The full road has yet to be built, and may never be. The 2.2-mile test bed known as the “Smart Road” that opened in 2000 was derided by some as “the stupid road” and a “road to nowhere.” However, it’s also become a magnet for international research. Over the past 30 years, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has grown to become the second-largest university-level transportation institute in the U.S. (Texas A&M has the largest). Today the institute has 520 employees — making it a significant employer in its own right. The institute draws in more than $50 million in sponsored research each year, with more than 300 active projects. It also projects 20 percent growth this year. Vehicle research is a growth industry for the region.
To read more about the old and new auto industry, read the whole article linked below.