Research Triangle Park’s new Park Center will soon become a hub for development and testing an innovative and futuristic transportation system and The Medical Innovator’s collaborative. An RTP-based university/industry consortium is awarding $250,000 to two organizations that will work from space in the Park Center’s Frontier building.

The inaugural award for the Catalysts for Innovation prize goes to two projects: EcoPRT, awarded $165,000, is developing an unusual auto-transport system that runs many individual cars on a rail.

The Medical Innovators Collaborative (The MEDIC), awarded $85,000 is a veteran-founded nonprofit spinout of the UNC & NC State Biomedical Engineering Department.

The awards resulted from a collaboration by, the Research Triangle Park, Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science (KIETS) at NC State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and TUCASI.

.This multi-organizational collaboration focused on giving big thinkers the uninterrupted opportunity to work on projects that have the potential to change the world.

Of the thirteen proposals submitted, two were selected as winners. These projects convene team members from multiple Triangle universities and the private sector. They also demonstrate a strong sense of collaboration and, if successful, have the potential to greatly enhance the lives of people across North Carolina and the Nation.

Frontier building provides space, community

In addition to the cash awards, the two projects each also receive free space at Park Center’s Frontier building.

The Frontier will provide teams the opportunity to not only have office space, but to also become involved in the thriving community at The Frontier and greater RTP.

Opened in 2015, The Frontier is an open innovation community that provides free co-working opportunities, affordable offices, and event space. This convergent atmosphere seeks to promote collaboration between employees of RTP companies, universities, startups and individuals.

It’s also a move toward making the RTP more like the emerging downtown tech hubs with their semi-communal spaces and collegial atmospheres, and solving the frequently heard complaint about the Park that it lacks places to eat or drop off dry-cleaning.

Advantages of EcoPRT

The EcoPRT solution is to build an ultra-light weight and low-cost transit system with autonomous vehicles that carry one or two passengers at a time. The system will have dedicated guideways where the vehicles can be routed directly to their destination without stops.

It has distinct advantages over light rail and other expensive urban transportation solutions. It costs only $1 million per mile for the guideway and it’s much faster than either light rail or bus. It also has a smaller footprint and impact on the environment and the guideway can “go almost anywhere,” according to EcoPRT web site.

Mason Ailstock, COO of the Research Triangle Park tells WRAL Techwire the awards have been in the works for a year. “Through this partnership, RTP is excited to see what happens when we bring diverse groups of people together focused on complex projects in one place,” he said.

“This is a great way for us to test and learn from those ideas while helping push cutting-edge research forward. It makes sense to have a convergence of all the universities and industry in the Park.”

The ECOPRT system “Asks new questions about transportation,” he said. “It’s an affordable modular transport system that’s flexible.” People will need to get around in the RTP’s 7,000 acres and will need to travel between the universities and companies in the Triangle, he said.

As the RTP builds out Park Center, which will includea hotel, office and retail space, “A key is accessing it,” Ailstock said. “How does it spill out on the roads and back to the companies and university campuses and downtown Triangle areas?”

It’s intended to evolve

The Medical Innovators Collaborative (MEDIC) is a veteran-founded nonprofit spinout of the UNC & NC State Biomedical Engineering Department.

MEDIC supports the innovation lifecycle and community by providing asset assessment and development, innovation training, industry relevant professional seminars, student internships, and an IP Safe Haven.

At The Frontier, MEDIC will host training sessions, networking events, and have a makerspace at BunkerLabs RDU, which is a strategic partner of the program which provides educational programming to help military veterans start and grow businesses.

The plan is to use these projects “as a test bed for these ideas, sit back and learn from them, and as they wind down, turn it into round two, and ask more people to input ideas, Ailstock said. “It’s intended to evolve.”