Foxconn And U of I Partner On $100 Million Smart Tech Research Center
Global electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, and the University of Illinois have partnered on a $100 million smart technology research center headquartered on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
The company’s Foxconn Interconnect Technology subsidiary will contribute $50 million over 10 years toward the effort, while the U of I system's statewide initiatives, including the Discovery Partners Institute and Illinois Innovation Network, will invest another $50 million.
U of I officials say the center — known as the Center for Networked Intelligent Components or C-NICE — will focus on the development of technology for smart devices, including those used in manufacturing, medical environments, as well as homes and self-driving vehicles.
“So the center looks to see how you bring together these kinds of intelligent devices and hardware and software modules, and configure them into intelligent environments,” said Placid Ferreira, an engineering professor at the U of I, and the director of C-NICE. The center will be housed at the Grainger College of Engineering’s Coordinated Science Laboratory.
Ferreria said the investment will expand the university’s research capabilities and infrastructure, and provide funding to make additional faculty hires.
He described the partnership as a “win-win” for both the U of I and Foxconn.
“The U of I brings sort of a wonderful capacity for addressing a broad set of problems in science and engineering. We work at a fairly fundamental level. (Through this partnership) we get this ability to collaborate together on things that actually get into practice, and actually get translated in products,” he said.
Ferreira said some research at the center may lead to real world applications in Foxconn products.
“When research products reach that stage, then some of it might get licensed in Foxconn Interconnect Technology's products,” he said.
But, Ferreira added, that’s not the sole goal of the center. In addition to illustrating how research can be applied to product applications, Ferreria said the benefit of the center will be the learning and research opportunities it provides to faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.
“This is a unique opportunity where you can expose undergraduates to industry problems you might encounter, and get them to get a perspective of what professional industry and life would look like,” he said.
Ferreira said two committees — one from the U of I and one from Foxconn — will choose areas of focus and projects to invest in at the center.
He said work is already underway on several projects related to smart manufacturing technology. Ferreria said he expects C-NICE projects to create jobs and spur innovation.
“When you look at the C-NICE center in this context, it really contributes to industries, universities working together, innovation, training of students, creating an advanced technology workforce and so forth,” Ferreria said.
Sidney Lu, the CEO of Foxconn Interconnect Technologies, is a U of I graduate and a major donor to the university. His name was added to the Urbana campus’ mechanical engineering building earlier this year after he donated more than $20 million toward a large scale renovation of the facility.
Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines