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Thunderdome to Thunderdrone - Igniting Innovation in Tampa Bay



Tampa Bay Environment (Culture/History, workforce, city signature, “buzz”, support to business travelers) Thunderdrone Business Model white David Scott Engine Room THUNDERDRONE


Several years ago, I participated in a strategic planning workshop focused on finding pathways to economic development in the greater Tampa Bay region. We quickly identified three unique resources we should leverage – our pleasant coastal environment, a large military community employed at the leading edge of national security, and a vibrant academic infrastructure. The output of the working group included a model describing the activity within an innovation ecosystem that we labeled “Thunderdome.” The naming was significant as it stressed the need for a significant ignition event to kick off a series of social and technical interactions that spark innovation, capital infusion, job creation, and workforce enhancement. The “Thunderdome” of the Mad Max movie was a cage where combatants used their ingenuity and whatever item at hand to defeat their opponent. There were no rules and at the end of the day, there would be a winner and a loser. It seemed an appropriate metaphor. In our model, an ignition event was a focused technology or process challenge of short duration leading to a “eureka moment” or less exciting consensus on the best solution for the problem at hand. Because the challenge reflected a relevant need, winning concepts immediately proceeded to rapid prototyping among one or several of the collaborators. This activity would be enabled by talent, experience, and resources available in the local area with the intent of bringing tangible products online in the least amount of time. In the end, the stimulation of competition within the supportive and enticing Tampa Bay environment would attract top talent and stimulate economic growth. We are beginning to see the concept become reality. This summer a “Thunderdrone” challenge will take place to develop sea, air, land, and space drones (unmanned and remotely controlled or autonomous vehicles). Collaborators from academia, industry, and other government agencies from around the world will convene in a Ybor City warehouse for two months of concept development and rapid prototyping. The best ideas will be fielded, and a permanent drone development lab will follow. The potential for commercial application as well as military use is profound. “Thunderdrone” is just the most recent and most ambitious example of an increasing drumbeat of innovation in Tampa Bay. The USF School of Engineering has joined with our military community for “impactful discovery” in traditional engineering as well as cyber. Industry and venture capital interest is growing. Student and military intern programs are expanding. The “Thunderdome” engine is coming to life.

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