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Virginia Tech investing $75 million in "Intelligent Infrastructure"

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BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) - Virginia Tech is moving forward with a 75 million dollar investment the school hopes will keep its engineering program as one of the top options for students nationwide.

That funding is going toward facilities, in a matter of five years, the school says will allow students to start creating automated vehicles like cars and drones.

The manager at Tech's Ware Lab says currently, all 10 thousand square feet of space are being used, but this new construction will expand the area that his students are allowed to work in.

Dewey Spangler says his students in the Ware Lab work every day, outside their classes, on innovations that could affect the future.

"They actually build the projects here. So they get experience in design, and they also get experience in the construction," said Spangler.

Projects, like cars, submarines, and drones.

Vehicles that routinely win the school recognition on a national scale, but right now, Spangler says the facilities are not only maxed-out, they separate students working in different fields, instead of inspiring collaboration.

"We're looking at an area where we can test autonomous vehicles of all kinds," said Engineering School Dean Don Taylor.

Taylor says the new investment will allow the program to expand for years to come.

It includes a 45 million dollar "Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex" to provide more space for student work.

A one million dollar "Automation Park" near the Duck Pond, to allow for the testing of self driving cars, boats, and drones.

And on Plantation Road, a nine million dollar "Smart Design and Construction Complex".

"Part of the reason why we're trying to find a way to build this new intelligent infrastructure set of facilities is because we have not spent enough time looking at the intersections of a lot of the things that we're good at inside the college," said Taylor.

"Eventually, a student that's working on the autonomous sailboat team can take that same idea, that same technology, that same methodology, and apply it to autonomous drones," said Spangler.

Taylor says the school is making the investment now, because it's expecting around two thousand students to be involved in automated engineering by 2022.

"We can't sit still, we can't continue doing things the way we've always done them, because the world will pass us by," said Taylor.

Spangler says right now, the move by Virginia Tech may seem futuristic, but he says it's necessary, because automation will soon become a regular part of our lives.

"Autonomy, 10 years from now, a lot of that will be ubiquitous to what we do," said Spangler.

Tech says construction will span from the Ware Lab, down to the Duck Pond, and continue on to a building on Plantation Road.

The whole project should take five years to complete, but students could see the groundbreaking begin as early as next year.