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NASA boosts links with local tech firms

Director of research center makes six stops in Springfield and Dayton.

Figuring out how manufacturers, tech companies and universities connected with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Cleveland’s NASA’s Glenn Research Center can help one another in an era of sequestration is a complex question.

But in a stop a Springfield’s NextEdge technology park, the first on a day-long tour of Miami Valley, James M. Free, director of the NASA facility, said they won’t have to reinvent either the wheel or the airplane to do so.

“I want to use the word growing” to describe the relationships between the two communities, said Free, because “we have good connectivity already.”

His point was made for him at the first two of his six stops on a Miami Valley visit arranged by 73rd District Ohio Rep. Rick Perales of Beavercreek, who co-chairs the Ohio Aerospace Caucus.

Both SAIC, which has 20 employees at its Springfield office, and Avetec, the non-profit research facility in a neighboring building, have worked or are working with Glenn Research Center, just as they have with Wright-Patterson.

In conversations during tours of both facilities, Free asked questions and took notes with further cooperation in mind.

Perales said that although this kind of exchange has happened at the lower levels, “at the leadership level, there’s been no cause to do much. Now there is.”

“NASA’s going through the same thing the Air Force is,” added Perales, who called advancing the relationships between the state’s two regions “a no-brainer.”

“They may not call it BRAC,” but the various NASA centers’ jobs and tasks are being shifted around just as the Air Force’s are, he said.

And with infrastructure the largest cost next to personnel, how things will be trimmed and combined are likely to change both facilities.

Dennis Andersh, SAIC senior vice president and Dayton regional executive, said it’s not just economic activity that’s at risk to federal budget cuts, so is the product of that activity.

With tighter budgets, “we’re going to have to pool resources in different ways to continue advancing technology,” he said. “Cooperation is essential.”

At Avetec, Free spent time with the leader of another major player in the region and state’s technology sector, Richard Honneywell, newly named director of the Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aerial Systems Center & Test Complex in the Avetec Building.

Working in tandem with the Dayton Development Coalition, Honneywell is part of the effort to land one of six centers nationwide that will work on safely integrating unmanned air systems into American air space.

If a center is located in the region, it could help to establish the UAS industry as a major contributor to the area’s economy.

Honneywell told Free that agribusiness may be one of the biggest early commercial users of unmanned systems, not emergency responders as many have thought.

For farmers, identifying where they need to put pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer or water is likely to save them a great deal of money on not necessarily treating others.

Jeffrey Dalton, chief technology officer at Avetec, said that in competition with other states for the UAS and other technology programs, Ohio’s players have a leg up in “a very progressive … networks infrastructure.”

Fibers capable of moving massive amounts of data ring Springfield, extend from Columbus to Cincinnati and from Springfield to Fairborn and serve as highways for exchange of information among researchers and technology companies, he said.

He added that both NASA and the Air Force share common need to tap into “knowledge management as an enabling kind of technology” — the very kind of work Avetec does.

In addition to that hardware, he said, data analytics of the sort Avetec does can provide the software crucial to integrating and organizing data from different sources.

This is the very challenge the UAS centers will face.

That sort of coordination touches on a related issue Perales described when he said: “We’ve got so many resources, but I don’t even know that they know the others’ capabilities.”

“We’ve got to leverage them,” he said. “We’ve got to connect a few of those dots.”

After his Springfield stops, Free visited the Wright State University Research Institute and Sinclair Community College; met with people from the Air Force Materiel and Logistical commands at Wright-Patt; and huddled with personnel at Woolpert, Defense Research Associates and the University of Dayton Research Institute.

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