UNR drone center downtown

The Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center has found a home.

The University of Nevada, Reno entity will be the main tenant in the Sinclair Building, the midtown Reno office building the school took over from the City of Reno in the last month.

The new center, created to facilitate work between the university and businesses around unmanned autonomous vehicles, will occupy the third floor of the 25,000-square-foot building.

UNR sees a business as well as academic opportunity in the state’s new designation as one of six national UAV test sites for the Federal Aviation Administration. Businesses involved in the UAV industry often partner with institutions of higher education because schools, due to their research function, can expedite the permits and authorizations required to test the systems.

The move is also one of the first concrete signs of the growing partnership between UNR and the city, which have both committed to bridging the gap between town and gown.

“This allows us to engage and have a tangible presence downtown, on the edge of downtown,” says Heidi Gansert, executive director for external relations, in the President’s Office at UNR.

UNR is in the process of hiring staff for the technology center, including a director, grant writer and entrepreneur-in-residence who “will provide ad-hoc consulting, coaching and mentoring for faculty, students, and industry partners on how to fully develop venture concepts.” The EIR will rely on the Nevada Small Business Development Center, and the Entrepreneurship Program and the Technology Transfer Office at UNR, according to an NAASIC overview.

The center will also work with Nevada Industry Excellence, the statewide resource for manufacturers, which will have an office alongside the center in the Sinclair Building.

“We’re trying to leverage the synergy between the two, great organizations,” says Gansert, referring to NVIE and UNR, which already cooperate. “This is a new level of engagement and we expect it to grow significantly.”

The nascent center has already generated interest from local companies, including Reno’s Drone America, and from Insitu Inc., the Bingen, Wash., maker of UAVs, as well as from venture capitalists, such as GloCal Venture Capital in Athens, Greece.

Among the center’s goals is developing K-12 curriculum so it expects to take advantage of its proximity to the Terry Wells Discovery Museum located nearby on Center Street, says Gansert.

The university has already established a minor degree program in Unmanned Autonomous Systems, which include so-called drones, industrial robots and driverless road vehicles.

NAASIC is being funded with $3 million from the state’s Knowledge Fund coupled with some university money.

UNR is acquiring the building from the city under a 14-year, purchase-to-lease agreement under which the school will make annual payments of $134,900.

The building will also likely house a pre-enrollment information center for prospective students and a Wolf Pack store on the first floor as well as space for community meetings, and possibly an incubator for start-up businesses, says Gansert.

UNR is in the process of doing some minor remodeling and hopes to reopen the building and launch the new innovation center by summer.


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