The Iowa Board of Regents has approved the formation of a new Center for Wireless, Communities and Innovation (WiCI) at Iowa State University.
The mission of the WiCI Center is to “advance the frontier of wireless and applications as well as the platforms and practice of research, education, innovation and community empowerment.”
The driving force behind the formation of the WiCI Center is the dual need for expanding affordable, effective rural broadband services and for rural participation and leadership in broadband innovation.
“Broadband is just as essential a utility for rural communities and industries in the 21st century as electrification was in the early 20th century,” said Hongwei Zhang, director of the new WiCI Center in a news release.
Zhang is also the director of an ISU project called “ARA: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities.” The project received a $16 million NSF grant last year to create a city-scale testbed aimed at studying how to bring down the cost of delivering broadband to rural communities.
“Broadband supports critical community services like education and telehealth that enhance the livability of rural locations. It also stokes economic growth by supporting workforce development, advanced manufacturing and a precision-driven agriculture that is becoming more data-intensive with each passing year,” Zhang said. “Wireless technology is a key driver for rural broadband, but it is critical that rural communities play a key role in wireless and broadband innovation. Without that leadership, rural regions will always lag behind if they only try to apply urban-focused technologies to rural settings and applications.”
The WiCI Center will attempt to help make Iowa a leader in wireless and broadband technology innovation and associated economic and community development by pursuing four areas:
- Research in advanced wireless and its applications in precision agriculture, rural education, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, automated transportation, telehealth, community services and more.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship to translate research into real-world impact and to foster university-industry collaboration in research and innovation.
- Education and workforce development to create pipelines of students, researchers and innovators in advanced wireless and applications in STEM in general.
- Community-building and empowerment to create ecosystem partnerships and to lead integrative research, education, innovation and economic and community development activities.
The WiCI Center will partner with many already-existing Iowa State centers and institutes, including ARA, the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC), the Institute for Transportation (InTrans), the Electric Power Research Center (EPRC), the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology (CSSM) and the Institute for Design Research and Outreach (IDRO).
Funding for the Center is in place for the first five years from the following sources:
- $350K: seed investment from the ISU Office of the Vice President for Research
- $450K: support from the ISU College of Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Human Sciences
- $200K: support from other sources who are participants in the ARA and related projects
“We are delighted the Board of Regents embraced the vision for the WiCI Center and approved its establishment at Iowa State,” said W. Samuel Easterling, dean of the college of engineering. “With the WiCI Center and ARA, working in tandem with the many centers and institutes that address a broad scope of issues critical to rural America, Iowa State University and the state of Iowa are uniquely positioned to lead the broadband and wireless technology revolution that will revitalize and enhance our rural communities.”