New Smart Sensors Research Partnership Aims to Boost Florida in Growing Industry

The University of Central Florida will partner with Osceola County and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council to establish a state-of-the-art research and incubation facility focused on the next generation of universal smart sensors.

The goal of the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center is to recruit or create the world’s first industry-led smart sensor consortium. Formed to make Florida a global leader in a rapidly growing industry, the center will be the home of research aimed at advancing technologies that will shape the future of automobiles, surgical devices, home appliances and a host of other devices.

As these innovations become ready for the marketplace, the center’s partners envision a growth in high-wage jobs for Central Floridians as existing companies expand and new companies move to the region to collaborate with the center’s researchers.

“This center holds great potential for becoming another economic game changer for our entire region – and the timing for such an endeavor could hardly be better,” said UCF President John C. Hitt.

Sensors allow us to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell beyond our capabilities. Sensors can detect things that we cannot, such as deadly carbon monoxide. They can show how diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease affect the human body, helping doctors provide more effective drug treatments.

The world smart sensors market is projected to reach $7.8 billion by next year, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc., and global demand is expected to increase dramatically in the years to come.

“We’ve asked ourselves for years what comes next after Medical City and it’s this infrastructure project,” said Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission – a partner in the new center — and current president of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation. “This is how the communities of the future are being built and this is what technology-led economic development is all about.”

The center will be built on 20 acres owned by Osceola County near the intersection of U.S. 192 and Florida’s Turnpike, across U.S. 192 from Osceola Heritage Park.

The Osceola County Commission on Monday evening approved a memorandum of understanding with UCF and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council. Osceola County committed to investing $61 million for design, construction and equipment costs associated with the 100,000-square-foot center. UCF will lease the building for $1 a year for 30 years and will operate the center.

“This is a historic day for Osceola County. Partnering with the University of Central Florida as the home of a research facility of this significance ties into all the planning and work we’ve done to diversify our economy,” said Osceola Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. “Creating these types of 21st Century jobs will make us a world leader in this coveted and competitive hi-tech field.”

The new partnership comes at a time when Florida continues to lose manufacturing jobs. A Brookings Institute report issued this month noted that Florida has lost 75,000 manufacturing jobs since 2007, and the state’s domestic and international trade deficit is growing. The same report said that for every four boxcarloads of goods brought into the state, only one carload is leaving with goods manufactured in Florida.

“We must change those numbers, and our dynamic partnership between UCF and Osceola County will help to make it happen,” Hitt said.

UCF researchers have developed sensors capable of a range of applications – from detecting hydrogen and specific chemicals in the air to reading oxygen in the blood – and are also creating the materials that will enable sensors to be integrated into ever-smaller computer chips.

UCF is set to provide $10 million – from non-state and non-tuition sources – to help design and build the center and for start-up costs, as well as an additional $7 million for focused faculty hires.

The Florida High Tech Corridor Council will contribute $1 million initially. The council also will expand the scope of its signature Matching Grants Research Program at UCF, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida to include Sensor-Driven Advanced Manufacturing. Up to $5 million of matching funds will be available for research activities and the operation of a consortium.

“Thanks to the forward-thinking leadership in Osceola County, this project will help create more opportunities for our entire region,” said Randy Berridge, president and CEO of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

UCF’s connections with Osceola County include a shared campus with Valencia College on Denn John Lane, as well as business incubators in St. Cloud and Kissimmee. Osceola County also was one of the first partners to contribute to the development of the Medical City at Lake Nona.