This editorial article is a part of State of Local Tech Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.
There are robots on Main Street in Westminster, and many of them are controlled by tiny humans inside an old automotive service center.
In a bid to promote technological advancements and create a hub for collaboration, the Autonomous Robotics Innovation Center (ARIC) recently opened its doors in Westminster, Maryland. The center, developed through a partnership between the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) and various stakeholders, aims to revolutionize the robotics industry and provide a platform for growth and learning.
The concept behind ARIC emerged from conversations within the area’s robotics ecosystem, said Graham Dodge, the executive director of MAGIC and a key partner in ARIC’s opening.
“The idea evolved organically from discussions with our local robotics industry sector and their desire for a shared training and testing facility where specific skills could be taught and where collaboration could occur,” he told Technical.ly.
Inspiration for ARIC’s development came from successful models such as the Alabama Robotics Technology Park and organizations using the Duckietown platform for smart city autonomy testing. With these influences in mind, ARIC was carefully developed to ensure it meets the robotics industry’s needs while fostering a spirit of innovation and cooperation.
The center is staffed by a dedicated team of employees, contractors and volunteers from MAGIC. Dodge emphasized the importance of collaboration with partners in making ARIC and its programs work, saying: “We work closely with our partners who lend their industry expertise to all the programs.”
These programs include the aforementioned Duckietown platform and certification in Robotics Operating System (ROS), Python and other technologies. Moreover, ARIC hosts various additional initiatives, including the Ghost Kart program, a collaboration with GearUp Maryland which focuses on converting gas-engine go-karts to autonomous electric vehicles. Another program, the OBSERV (Observational Environmental Robotic Vehicles) Foundation executed in partnership with Kick Robotics, aims to make its SenseBot platform open-source and cost-effective for farmers, manufacturers and distributors. In addition, ARIC offers instruction for both the VEX and FIRST robotics platforms.
The impact of ARIC extends beyond the center’s walls, with Dodge saying that he hopes it unlocks new connections to the region’s long-standing robotics legacy.
“First and foremost, [we aim] to cultivate career opportunities in robotics for students here in Carroll County who may not otherwise know about our rich robotics history in Westminster or have developed the necessary skills to qualify for these local opportunities,” he said.
MAGIC, the driving force behind ARIC, has a broader mission of education, innovation and incubation in Westminster, the seat of largely rural Carroll County. The organization aims to serve as a technology change leader and showcase an economic development model that can be replicated in other underserved rural communities. Through initiatives like ARIC, MAGIC strives to bring about positive change and create a thriving technological ecosystem.
As an official partner of Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS), ARIC aspires to establish a strong collaboration with the educational system. Dodge highlighted the success of the center’s paid internship program, which garnered significant interest from CCPS career coordinators. He highlighted the need to expand these opportunities, especially considering the trade certification requirements under the Maryland Blueprint initiative. In addition, ARIC seeks to provide computer science teachers with the skills needed to pass on valuable knowledge to their students. The center also plans to offer exposure to various STEM-related concepts and activities for students of all grade levels.
The establishment of ARIC required substantial investment, and Dodge provided insight into the funding sources involved.
“We initially raised $152,500 from Knorr-Bremse, Kahlert Foundation, State of Maryland Dept of Housing and Community Development, TYLin and BGE, along with an estimated $60,000 worth of in-kind contributions from various businesses — most notably from Dynamic Dimension Technologies, SICK Sensor Technologies and Mach, who are among our key strategic partners.”
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