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

InnoMobility Engine Overview, Vision, and Rationale

First Draft for Review and Comment by Collaboration Partners

August 4, 2022

NSF Program. The InnoMobility Engine is an innovation ecosystem of diverse partners to develop the world’s most productive, reliable, resilient, environmentally sustainable, and equitable industrial electric and autonomous mobility system in SC. In September 2022, InnoMobility will submit a Type-1 proposal to the NSF Regional Innovation Engine program for $1 million over two years to develop a strategic plan. If approved, NSF will provide up to $160 million of Type-2 funding over ten years to implement the plan. Maximum funding is as follows.   

After the initial two year Type-1 planning cycle, the InnoMobility Engine will annually negotiate rolling two year Type-2 execution implementation budgets with the NSF through the duration of the program. 


While the primary focus of this document is NSF funding, the InnoMobility Engine will concurrently seek additional funding from Federal, state, and other sources.


Letters of Collaboration. InnoMobility is seeking Letters of Collaboration required to be included with the September 2022 proposal. Collaboration Partners are not requested to buy into preconceived projects, but rather to identify each Partner’s mobility priorities which will aggregate into the InnoMobility Engine proposal. The Letters of Collaboration identify each Partner’s priorities, commit each Partner to providing a representative to serve on the InnoMobility Engine Council, and identify resources the Partner will make available to realize their priorities. This InnoMobility Engine Overview, Vision, and Rationale is a first draft that will be revised to align closely with Collaboration Partner priorities to be included in the Type-1 proposal. 

Strong Foundation. SC is well positioned to create the InnoMobility Engine because of world class logistics and manufacturing facilities, and because of world class mobility related academic research and testing facilities. The global reputation of these organizaitons gives innovations developed in SC the credibility to be marketed around the world. The timing is right for the InnoMobility Engine because rapid progress in electric and autonomous vehicles, and in IT applications such as artificial intelligence, make significant mobility improvements possible. 

Solution Gaps. ICAs may address a number of challenges. Currently SC’s industrial mobility system operates primarily with vehicles powered by fossil fuels, with the associated environmental impacts. The lack of visibility and interoperability of IT systems limits the reliability of mobility systems, in particular just-in-time delivery systems, which hinders the ability to identify and mitigate problems such as traffic congestion. IT systems may be exposed to nefarious cyber attacks that may impede safety or expose confidential business information. Some of the logistics infrastructure, such as the Port of Charleston, struggle with limits to capacity. Expansion of infrastructure may damage the environment, which requires mitigation. Transportation workers are concerned that automation threatens their jobs. Automation innovation should include training pathways to better jobs for impacted workers. Getting to and from jobs, education, and healthcare, and delivery of consumer goods, food, and health care supplies to the home, can be challenging for many, especially for lower income or disabled people. 

Innovation Collaboration Agreement. The driving force behind the InnoMobility Engine will be the identification and funding of innovation projects inspired by the identified needs of Collaboration Partners who are system users. An Innovation Collaboration Agreement (“ICA”) will be created for each project including Partners in each of the areas in this diagram. Each ICA will be reviewed and revised on a two year cycle similar to the NSF funding of the Engine, allowing each ICA to iterate and mature as early pilots and prototypes are validated. 

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InnoMobility Metrics. Tracking improvement metrics is crucial to the InnoMobility Engine. A system for monitoring the movement of vehicles in SC will be developed (“IM Tracker”), which will be required to be used by any InnoMobility project. This system may include physical hardware attached to a vehicle that wirelessly connects to GPS and records a blockchain record of the time and location of the vehicle. This blockchain approach eliminates the need for a centralized database of vehicles to be maintained. Each application developer in the InnoMobility Engine can query each vehicles IM Tracker blockchain record to determine the vehicle’s time and location history.

Illustrative ICAs. The first two year planning cycle will describe detailed use inspired plans for specific ICAs to execute as a part of the Type 2 implementation. The illustrations below are informed by initial user interviews. Actual initial projects will be defined by the InnoMobility Engine Council based on user priorities. 

  • An ICA may define a shared system to improve the visibility of the location of vehicles and the interoperability of information systems throughout an entire supply chain to enhance planning through internal enterprise planning systems. A pilot project would use IM Trackers to capture the time of delivery by each vehicle and compare it to the time of delivery promised. Data from this pilot project would be used to enhance the system further and to develop marketing plans to commercialize the system into other supply chains worldwide. 

  • An ICA may define a newly developed autonomous system for using private roads at GSP Airport to move people from remote parking to the terminal and cargo from the terminal to the adjacent BMW Manufacturing facility. A pilot would use IM Trackers to monitor the movement of existing vehicles as well as prototypes of the new autonomous vehicles, allowing for an analysis of the improved reliability and efficiency of the new system. This data could be used to acquire the necessary regulatory permits to expand the system using Greenville county roads to serve passengers at remote parking close to the Michelin North Americas Headquarters approximately six miles away. This additional data could be used to acquire the required regulatory permits to expand the system into downtown Greenville and downtown Spartanburg, each roughly fifteen miles away. This robust data would allow for marketing the system elsewhere in SC and around the world.

  • An ICA may define a drone based system of delivering tissue samples collected during annual primary care physicals to an analysis lab, and then returning medicines prescribed by a physician during a telehealth consultation. IM Trackers on the drones would document the rural areas and low income urban areas served, which might justify funding by government agencies or insurance companies to extend the service to other underserved areas of SC and beyond. 


Collaboration Partners. A key priority of the InnoMobilty Engine is enhancing the existing SC Logistics network managed by the SC Council on Competitiveness, who will provide a Letter of Collaboration describing their programs that are available to Engine Partners as well as helping to identify Partners to provide Letters of Collaboration to include in the Type-1 proposal. 

Initial InnoMobolity Partners include:

  • SC Ports Authority

  • GSP Airport

  • SC Council on Competitiveness

  • Center for Connected Multimodal Mobility, which is a coalition including Clemson, the University of SC, the Citadel, SC State, and Benedict

  • SCRA

Potential Additional Partners include:

  • Michelin

  • Amazon

  • SC Hospital Association representing SC hospitals

  • CU-ICAR, which has a $100 million US Army contract to run a virtual autonomous prototyping lab

  • University of SC Department of Electrical Engineering, which has $13 million in US Office of Naval Research projects in electric ships

  • College of Charleston, which has some focus on autonomous technology

  • SCTAC which has an electric and autonomous vehicle test track

  • Global Transport flying transport organs on drones from airports to hospitals

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