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Communities of Innovation, Inc., a South Carolina not-for-profit corporation, submitted this InnoMobility Concept Outline to the National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines Program, which was accepted by NSF. Communities of Innovaiton, Inc. anticipates submitting a Type-1 proposal due September 29, 2022.  See InnoMobility Engine Overview, Vision, and Rationale for details about how the InnoMobility Engine and the request for Letters of Collaboration required to be included in a Type-1 proposal. For additional information, contact John Warner.

NSF Regional Innovation Engines Program

Concept Outline

Final as of June 27, 2022


a. Topic Area: Creating the world’s most productive, reliable, resilient, and environmentally sustainable industrial electric and autonomous mobility system. 


b. Region of Service: State of South Carolina. 

c. Purpose and Vision of the proposed Engine: InnoMobility will execute a ten-year strategic plan to create a shared electric and autonomous industrial mobility system in SC. Just as public highways are shared today, data will be shared providing participants visibility through the entire system and allowing the system to become increasingly autonomous. The system will make manufacturing more globally competitive and incentivize onshoring, make mobility more environmentally sustainable, and better serve workers especially in underserved minority and rural populations.

SC has major industrial assets from the world’s largest BMW Manufacturing facility to the deepest east coast port at the Port of Charleston. SC is home to nearly 6,000 manufacturing facilities. 500 are automotive-related including Volvo, Proterra, the market leader in electric buses, and Oshkosh Defense, producing electric USPS vehicles. Michelin is a model for SC moving up a corporate value chain. From 1974 to 1985, SC recruited eight Michelin manufacturing plants, then the Michelin Americas Research Corporation, and finally the Michelin North America headquarters. In addition to its own supply chain and workforce challenges, Michelin is evaluating emerging mobility segments as mobility business models are disrupted. The SC Council on Competitiveness is preparing a competitive analysis of electric vehicle manufacturing and manages SC Logistics, a network of logistics professionals. Massive new Panamax ships will significantly increase the number of containers through the Port, exacerbating the problem of trucks being delayed moving containers through congested highways. Manufacturers desire just-in-time supply chains, but a lack of data visibility and material delays increases buffer inventory and under optimization of production capacity. SC is mostly suburban to rural. Public transportation to get to work is inadequate for many individuals, especially in underserved minority and rural communities. Healthcare, agriculture, construction, and other industries have similar mobility challenges. 

The SC Legislature enhanced academic research in 2002 by enacting the SC Research Centers of Economic Excellence Act (“CoEE”). Four CoEE chairs are the foundation of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (“CU-ICAR”), the nation's first graduate school of automotive engineering. The US Army is funding up to $100 million to design the next generation of vehicles, which engages more than 65 Clemson faculty and 74 students from engineering to IT. Other CoEE research impacting mobility includes Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology, Energy and Alternative Fuels, and Information Science. A former CoEE Chair in Supply Chain Logistics living in SC is now a Principal Research Scientist for Amazon whose Zoox subsidiary is a leader in autonomous technology. The University of SC received $13.9 million from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to improve electric and autonomous ships. The James Clyburn Transportation Center is at SC State, a historically black land grant university. The SC Fraunhofer USA Alliance funds advanced applied research with SC institutions. 

The NSF provided $2.83 million for Trident Technical College to lead a consortium to train a workforce to build and service electric and autonomous vehicles. Other technical college centers include the Greenville Tech Center for Manufacturing Innovation and the Florence-Darlington Tech Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology. Argo AI, an autonomous technology partnership between Ford and Volkswagen, selected the International Transportation Innovation Center, a world-class electric vehicle testbed in Greenville, SC, for their next test track. 

Despite these significant assets, SC’s innovation ecosystem is underdeveloped, not only compared to hotspots across the country but compared to neighboring states. Most of the ~1,000  CU-ICAR Ph.D. and Master’s graduates have left SC to pursue careers elsewhere. SC is an original participant in EPSCOR. UNC’s ~$1.2 billion in annual research is greater than ~$800 million in combined annual research at Clemson, the University of SC, and the Medical University of SC. SC received $0.1 billion in venture capital investments in 2020, versus $3.6 billion in NC, $2.0 billion in Georgia, $84 billion in California, and $35 billion in New York and Massachusetts.

InnoMobility will solicit, negotiate and manage Research Collaboration Agreements (“RCA”). Any organization in a RCA is an InnoMobility member. Each RCA innovation will be measured by improving productivity that reduces the cost per unit moved, increasing reliability to consistently achieve on-time delivery, enhancing resilience to mitigate predictable challenges such as traffic congestion or weather, improving environmental sustainability, creating and retaining high-wage jobs in SC, and attracting resources in addition to InnoMobility funding. Each RCA will address one or more elements of the InnoMobility Innovation Stack:

  • Autonomy: Application of expert systems, machine visioning, and other AI processes making the mobility system more productive, reliable, and resilient autonomously without human intervention. 

  • Visibility: Storing, safeguarding, and providing visibility into shared mobility data to improve the performance of users’ internal management systems.

  • Standards: Common specifications such as loading docks or IT formats making users’ systems interoperable.

  • Vehicles: Novel designs of electric and autonomous vehicle platforms to improve productivity and connectivity, lower energy and maintenance costs, and enhance environmental sustainability. 

  • Infrastructure: Transportation infrastructure enhancements including becoming intelligent. 

  • Regulation: Essential government regulation, such as safety and privacy.


RCAs include:

  • Use Inspired Innovation. InnoMobility will fund RCAs where a lead industry organization has an existing problem on the Innovation Stack they are willing to support a pilot project to solve, and a lead academic research center designs a collaborative research project to solve the problem. Individual RCAs can be extended by adding Innovation Stack elements over time. InnoMobility’s overall goal is aggregating RCA innovations into a comprehensive, interoperable, autonomous industrial mobility system. Students involved in RCAs build relationships with and are hired by industry to continue commercializing the innovation in SC. Collaborations producing pipelines of students employed by industry in profitable commercial enterprises are financially self-sustaining. RCAs address IP ownership and licensing. Funding may be in phases contingent upon the accomplishment of key success milestones.  

  • Commercialization and Workforce Development. Each RCA includes a lead economic development agency and/or a lead entrepreneurial support organization to provide funding, incentives, or other assistance to support the growth of industry innovation centers or entrepreneurial companies providing high-wage jobs to commercialize innovations.  Each RCA includes a lead technical college to train the needed diverse, skilled workforce. K-12 teachers and students are engaged to inspire the next generation of South Carolinians to pursue STEM careers. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are foundational principles of each RCA. Commercialization, workforce development, and diversity goals have the same importance as research goals. 

John Warner is a serial entrepreneur and recognized leader of innovation and entrepreneurship in SC who envisioned InnoMobility and will be its full time CEO.  Mr. Warner has had positive discussions with many of the organizations above about being InnoMobility members. SC Logistics will engage its logistics professionals network in the Phase I planning process. Mr. Warner is leading an initiative for the SC Legislature to reauthorize the CoEE Act to provide state funding that aligns well with NSF funding.


d. Regional Importance and Impact: Developing the world’s most productive, reliable, resilient, and environmentally sustainable industrial mobility systems builds SC’s global reputation to attract resources and talent to develop and commercialize mobility innovations in SC, across the country, and around the world. High-wage jobs in SC, including in underserved communities, increase by creating, attracting, and growing advanced manufacturing facilities, academic research enterprises, industry innovation centers, and entrepreneurial companies. 

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