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Day 2 of “Smart Mobility Expo” features many speakers focused on the sector

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by Sara Pruneski, Senior Account Supervisor with Hall Strategies. The Nashville-based firm serves as the administrative arm of several statewide associations including TennSMART, Life Science Tennessee, and BioTN. Today’s post summaries the first day of the “Tennessee Smart Mobility Expo” held late last week in Nashville. The first article posted yesterday.)

By Sara Pruneski, Senior Account Supervisor, Hall Strategies

Day two of the “Tennessee Smart Mobility Expo” kicked off with a fireside chat with Deputy Governor and Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Butch Eley and President of the University of Tennessee (UT) System Randy Boyd. Bruce Doeg, shareholder at Baker Donelson who also serves as Vice Chairman of Launch Tennessee, moderated the discussion.

(L to R) Doeg, Boyd and Eley

President Boyd reviewed our state’s success in recruiting automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), starting with then Governor Lamar Alexander’s pitch to Nissan. Now the state boasts four OEMs with Nissan Americas, GM, Volkswagen, and Ford. Commissioner Eley spoke to the transformation of transportation in Tennessee as auto manufacturers are now becoming electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers. Both highlighted the current research and infrastructure projects underway at universities and agencies across the state as assets that we can and should do more to market.

The discussion was a platform for Commissioner Eley and President Boyd to outline their vision for transportation research in Tennessee and the investments needed to make Tennessee a leading state in this arena. The “Tennessee Smart Mobility Expo” was referenced as being a “catalyst” for bringing more transportation research to the state, as well as accelerating what is currently being done. Both Commissioner Eley and President Boyd declared they would like to see Tennessee as more than an auto manufacturing state, adding that transportation research and technology development is a “priority” for the state, not just a talking point.

Up next, attendees heard from state officials on two exciting projects that contribute to building a smart state. Matt Meservy, Director of the Long Range Planning Division at TDOT, and Alexa Voytek, Energy Programs Administrator at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), described electric EV infrastructure development, including the fast charge network between TDEC, TVA and Drive Electric TN and the recently submitted Tennessee Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (TEVI) Plan. Lee Smith, Interim Traffic Operations Division Director at TDOT, and Dan Work, Chancellor Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, and the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt University, presented on the I-24 MOTION project, an open road test bed which will provide unprecedented levels of data to improve traffic flow on one of the most traveled roadways in Middle Tennessee.

Tennessee’s leading universities came together to discuss their research regarding smart mobility-related projects happening across the state in the next session. This roundtable featured Pingen Chen from Tennessee Tech University and his work on rural EV infrastructure; Mina Sartipi and Austin Harris from UT at Chattanooga on the test bed and smart corridor in downtown Chattanooga; Kevin Heaslip and Asad Khattak from UT, Knoxville on their readiness assessment of transportation technologies; and Janey Camp from Vanderbilt on a range of research projects, including several concerning equitable transit access.

Thomas Stout, Inductive Pavement Lead at HDR, and P.T. Jones, Advanced Vehicle Systems technical staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), presented on wireless power transfer technology and its use for transportation electrification. The presentation was a good example of the way private companies are working alongside researchers to bring new technologies – and use cases – to market.

After lunch, a panel of FedEx officials presented on a range of projects concerning the future of smart logistics. This session featured Nikhil Pande, Staff Director of Advanced Technology and Innovation; Darrin Earl, Manager of Advanced Technology and Innovation and Autonomous Vehicles; Terri Cooper, Managing Director of Transportation Program Management; and Angela Wehmeyer, Manager of Industry Research. The speakers talked about FedEx’s first and last mile innovations, such as Roxo, the same-day delivery bot; fleet electrification and bold carbon neutrality goals; the Autonomous Vehicle Center of Excellence; and partnerships with state agencies and universities, including a new partnership with Lane College, to build a resilient workforce.

To wrap up the day, attendees heard from a leading panel about bringing more transportation technology research and development to Tennessee – a bookend to the earlier fireside chat. Panelists included Rich Davies, TennSMART Board President and Director of the Sustainable Transportation Program for the Energy Science and Technology Directorate at ORNL; Stacey Patterson, Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development at UT; and Padma Raghavan, Vice Provost for Research and Professor of Computer Science at Vanderbilt. Lindsey Cox, Chief Executive Officer of Launch Tennessee, moderated the discussion. The panelists were representatives from a working group funding a study by Guidehouse that will outline economic and strategic opportunities to position Tennessee as a leading research hub. The report, to be presented to the Governor, will include recommendations for ways to capitalize on the next wave of innovation in the industry.

Off the main stage, a VW ID.4, a Ford 1-50 Lightning, a Nissan ARIYA, and a Tesla Model 3 were available for attendees in the expo’s indoor test track in addition to the technologies on display in the demo hall. The expo floor opened to the public on Saturday and EVs moved outside for a Ride + Drive event on the streets of downtown Nashville presented by TVA.

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