Northland Community & Technical College awarded $7M grant

Northland Community & Technical College, along with five other partner agencies, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in the amount of $7 million — the largest grant ever awarded to Northland. This grant will facilitate the formation of the National Center for Autonomous Technologies (NCAT) to be hosted on Northland’s Aerospace site in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

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Northland will partner with St. Cloud State University (SCSU), Marine Advanced Technology Education Inspiration for Innovation (MATE II), Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (CAAT), National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech), and the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence (TCOE) to educate and promote autonomous technologies throughout the United States.

The NCAT will join the NSF’s large circle of Advanced Technological Education Centers (ATE).”We will build upon the work of several other NSF ATE program investments including Northland’s DRONETECH programs, MATE, CAAT, and GeoTech. These in addition to other investments will contribute to the NCAT meeting the rapid developments in autonomous technologies,” said Jon Beck, Northland Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) instructor and NCAT principal investigator.

Autonomous technology is already woven into the fabric of everyday life. From autonomous guided agricultural equipment to household vacuums that are able to independently navigate the living room. “Advanced vehicle technology is here. The NCAT will create the infrastructure to develop skilled technicians who will build the workforce of today and tomorrow to meet industry demands,” said Christopher Hadfield, director of the Minnesota State Transportation Center for Excellence. “In two years, 60 percent of all new vehicles will have autonomous technology components.”

The NCAT will focus on air, land, and sea autonomous technologies: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), connected automated vehicles (CAV), and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV). “Our mission has four main tenets,” said Curtis Zoller, Northland associate dean of aerospace and agriculture, “to educate the educators, to promote student involvement, engage the workforce and community, and to act as an education hub for autonomous technology across the country.”

The NCAT will construct professional development workshops for educators and industry professionals and promote and provide support to encourage more engagement in STEM and autonomous technologies in secondary and post-secondary education, particularly in underserved areas. In addition, the NCAT aims to involve workforce and community stakeholders, to help identify and solve everyday issues with autonomous technology.

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“Northland has driven innovation in autonomous technology education for almost a decade,” said Beck, “Autonomous technologies will transform the way society lives, works, and travels. The NCAT will provide significant advancements in technical education required to sustain the United States as a leader in autonomous technologies.”

“We are very appreciative to the National Science Foundation for awarding this exceptionally large and prestigious grant to Northland and our partner institutions,” said Northland’s president Dennis Bona, “I’m also extremely proud of our Aerospace team for demonstrating their expertise in autonomous technology, as well as the tremendous effort they put into preparing for this grant.  Receiving this grant will further Northland’s national reputation for aerospace education and establish us as a leader in this field of study.”

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