A CITE Like No Other

The PHCP industry may have an entirely different R&D lab to test its products.

Pegasus Global Holdings is currently restarting plans to build a full-size town in the New Mexico desert that will become the world’s largest research facility. Or, depending how you look at it, the world’s largest ghost town.

The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (or CITE) will be a built-to-order town complete with homes, schools, roads and downtown. I guess, to better describe it, we could call it the world’s largest reverse-engineered ghost town.

Plans for the city cover about 26 square miles and include a city center as well as suburban and rural neighborhoods. Based on a look at the graphics from CITE’s website, CITE will come with everything one would expect to find in a city of 35,000 residents – except for the 35,000 residents.

The blueprints call for a city hall, airport, regional mall, power plant, schools, churches and gas stations all connected by working power, water and sewer utilities and telecommunications systems. I wouldn’t expect much in the way couches and chairs inside CITE’s homes, but there will be working toilets, showers and washing machines.

Underneath the CITE will be what’s dubbed “The Backbone,” described as both the “brain” and “nervous system” for the entire facility. The Backbone serves as the operational hub from which the testing facilities are controlled and monitored.

The Backbone Hub will be will be protected against electromagnetic pulse and electromagnetic interference, and house most of the operations centers for the only humans allowed in the CITE.

According to its website, “CITE will be a catalyst for the acceleration of research into applied, market-ready products by providing ‘end to end’ testing and evaluation of emerging technologies and innovations … ”

Back when Pegasus CEO Robert Brumley first envisioned the CITE a few years ago, he told Popular Mechanics to consider it a bit like Disney World for scientists and innovators – again, just without all those visitors.

Brumley added that it would be a place to develop new technologies tested in large-scale experiments in real-world conditions that wouldn’t be practical, financially feasible or even safe to do elsewhere.

In the article, Brumley used a relatively simple experiment to illustrate the pitfalls of routine testing vs. the potential for CITE’s version.

As his example, Brumley used a thermostat that could possibly make an entire neighborhood more energy efficient. Researchers could hand out the thermostats to homeowners and check in on their meters a year later. But the results would depend on a lot of factors out of the researchers' control, such as how warm or cool the homeowners liked their rooms to be. Or whether some of the homes in the neighborhood had better insulation than others. If the experimental system doesn't work, the scientists would have disrupted people's lives and maybe hiked up their utility bills all to no avail.

But with nobody living in the CITE, Brumley says computerized systems can easily mimic human behavior such as turning thermostats up and down, switching lights off and on, or flushing toilets, but they'll do so under the scientists' control. A research team could install the thermostats in a block of the CITE’s two-story suburban houses, then run multiple long-term scenarios, manipulating the imaginary residents' behavior to see what the energy use is under different circumstances.

The company’s renderings show separate districts labeled Energy District; Development District; Water District; and Agricultural District. And while the city will be built from scratch, the construction will purposefully include a mix of both old and new building materials to better afford a larger variety of testing opportunities.

CITE should have “several layers of older technology on top of new technology,” he told The Atlantic last month. “Not only fiber, but stuff people have forgotten about, like copper.”

Brumley further outlines on the company website the three major reasons CITE will succeed with such a monumental research “lab” by breaking down barriers to R&D:

  • Commercialization of federally funded research has generally been a failure.
  • Transitional testing of new products or service in a real-world legacy environment is almost impossible to achieve due to scale, scope and regulatory limitations.
  • Small firms and innovators are almost completely locked out of federal and private testing and evaluation facilities due to a variety of factors, chief of which is cost.

“While it is the goal and mission of numerous federal, state and private laboratories to move intellectual property into the realm of commercialization,” Brumley states on the website, “those who are engaged in these efforts are frequently buffeted by the prevailing legal, financial and cultural barriers making process painstakingly slow and inefficient.

The bottom line for Brumley is that “CITE is a venue where a new product, production technology, operating system or service can be ‘bolted-on’ or ‘built-into’ real-world testing mechanisms for enhanced, more effective results.”

Pegasus, a technology company that’s spent the past decade commercializing military technologies as well as manufacturing defense equipment, expects the construction of CITE to take about four years and some $1 billion. Pegasus will essentially be the CITE’s “landlord” and lease out the facilities to anyone interested in conducting large-scale tests.

If all had gone as originally planned, however, the construction might have been half-finished already. The major undertaking has been on hold for the past two years with the original choice for CITE to be near the town of Hobbs, located in the southeastern corner of New Mexico near the Texas border.

Progress was idled, however, pending environmental concerns for the approval of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

In the meantime, the site for the CITE also switched to about 500 acres of land outside Las Cruces, NM.

Brumley told the Las Cruces Sun-News the company mulled over other sites and that the final decision came down to a “Goldilocks” approach.

“They were really good places but had one or another item that gave us some concern," he said. "The primary concern is can you operate it once you build it."

Infrastructure and access to transportation are key, Brumley told the paper.  However, CITE also needed to be far enough away from larger cities to lower cost and avoid any interference with testing. The company never wavered, however, from choosing a location in Southeastern New Mexico.

Brumley says construction of CITE will begin sometime this year.

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