A science project of unprecedented scale begins this month in the New Mexico desert, as a technology firm breaks ground for a model metropolis. Washington-based Pegasus Global Holdings will build a town replete with schools, parks and an airport.
But the intended residents are not people, but robots.
Scheduled to open in 2015, the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, or CITE, will be built across 20 square miles to the scale of a mid-sized American city. With housing and infrastructure to accommodate 35,000 people, the $1 billion plan features both old and new elements of urban and suburban design, from LEED-certified office buildings to 1980s-era ‘McMansions’.
The uninhabited city will serve as a laboratory for universities, companies and government agencies to test emerging technologies, such as alternative energy generation, intelligent traffic systems, wireless communications and smart power grids. The design, which is being finalised in consultation with the architectural firm Perkins and Will, includes an underground warren of control rooms, where engineers can simulate different conditions throughout apartments, roads and public spaces.
But is a city without people the best laboratory for experimenting in urban sustainability? TED fellow and green architect Rachel Armstrong is sceptical. “You can innovate”, she says. “But only in a human context.”
CITE believes, however, that the city can act as a vital test bed for taking new technologies to market. Mimicking real-world conditions, CITE will allow researchers to experiment with ideas that in populated cities would be too time-consuming, costly or risky – like the driverless trucks planned for its five-mile long freeway. “The goal”, says CITE’s Alarie Ray Garcia, “is to overcome barriers to product commercialisation, and get new technologies out while they’re still relevant and marketable.”