Academia and industry come together at the University of Illinois Research Park
By Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
November 28, 2017

Scott Dixon, ABE alumnus, shares his #ACESstory!

When I finished my Master’s degrees in Agricultural and Biological Engineering in 2006, I felt passionate about the next phase of my life. This next phase was focused on a position I had accepted with Caterpillar Inc. in the engineering rotation development program, where I was set to start building my professional experience with a great Fortune 50 company. 

My first ten years with Caterpillar were predominantly spent collecting data in various capacities. In construction and mining equipment, the data was used in the testing, validation, and design areas of new product development. We also plugged into machines and recorded sensor values such as engine speed, fluid temperatures, and other performance metrics that helped engineers better understand the inside workings of complex systems.

I really didn’t think during this time that my professional career path would bring me back to Champaign/Urbana, but when I saw an opportunity emerge which could return me to land of Orange and Blue, I jumped at it. This new opportunity was in the fast growing area commonly called the Internet of Things (IoT).  

A large portion of IoT is focused on connecting assets (fixed and mobile) to improve the efficiency of industrial systems such as simplified fleet management, precision agriculture, and remote failure detection. Many teams and large corporations are attempting to apply the same data collection and analysis performed for decades in focused and localized testing and field trials across populations of 10,000’s, 100,000’s or even millions of machines (things). 

This is where the UIUC Research Park has a strategic advantage to take a lead position in IoT by blending many of the strengths from the Colleges of ACES and Engineering.  Since IoT is focused on driving efficiency across a wide variety of things, it is critical that skills such as coding, database architecture, and web development come together with specific areas of study such as machinery design, agronomy, and agricultural economics. It is at this intersection where the interesting developments are being made both in academia and industry. 

The Research Park is an ideal environment to grow capability in IoT, harnessing the strength of a world class institution with a vibrant and growing collection of over 100 companies already hard at work building the technology of tomorrow.  The Research Park also holds opportunity no matter your current connection to Illinois.

Students have access to exciting companies where they can work part-time during their studies making a competitive wage, building their resume, and getting their foot in the door. (Students, check out the Research Park Job Board  to see if any of the opportunities catch your eye.)  For faculty and staff who have an entrepreneurial itch to scratch, EnterpriseWorks provides cost effective office space and a great startup environment to grow and commercialize ideas. Last but not least, industry needs access to the leaders of tomorrow, and there are few better places to be than the Research Park, where you can hire students part-time during the school year, participate in capstone design projects, and engage in world-class research.  

The Research Park is proving to be a local and state engine for growth, and I am excited to play a small role in what looks to be a very bright future. 

Scott Dixon is an ABE alumnus, a member of the ABE External Advisory Committee, and the senior analytics project leader in Analytics Innovation & Services for Caterpillar