UCF is part of a local collaboration selected to receive a major national investment in semiconductor research, design and manufacturing in the Central Florida region.

The funding, which was announced today, is from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration through its Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

Osceola County — in partnership with UCF, Orlando Economic Partnership, BRIDG, the Florida High Tech Corridor and SkyWater Technology — is one of 21 awardees selected out of 529 applicants to receive the funding and the only Florida awardee. The total award amount is $50.8 million with UCF receiving $8.8 million for its project, Digital Twin.

Digital twin encompasses digital replications of any real-world objects or systems — such as the human heart — that can be altered to understand impacts on an original item. Digital twins could be scaled to entail entire cities or large transportation or health care systems with constantly updated data and conditions, allowing designers, builders and architects to test and prove their ideas and concepts before production.

The investment will expand the semiconductor manufacturing potential of NeoCity, a 500-acre technology district in Kissimmee. It will establish a hub for semiconductor reshoring, benefitting aerospace, engineering, healthcare and other industries nationally. UCF is already a national leader in modeling and simulation research and education.

“UCF is committed to unleashing potential in people, organizations, ideas and the communities we serve through partnerships,” says UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright. “With this grant we will have the opportunity to leverage the expertise of outstanding faculty to expand our novel digital-twin technology to train the next generation of innovators with the skills necessary to fuel the growth of NeoCity and central Florida’s economy.”

UCF’s Microelectronic Design and Production Digital Twin project will be completed through collaboration between UCF’s School of Modeling, Simulation and Training (SMST) and the College of Engineering and Computer Science. SMST Director Grace Bochenek ’98PhD will provide strategic guidance on the project.

With an investment in new modeling and simulation equipment, UCF will develop a digital twin of NeoCity’s Center for NeoVation, which is a world-class sensor and research development city for academic and commercial use.

Through the Center for NeoVation’s digital twin, UCF will replicate its production line, increasing microchip reliability and productivity, lowering maintenance costs, reducing risk, creating new business, improving supply and delivery chain efficiency, and enabling cross-discipline collaboration to foster innovation. UCF’s participation in this project expands its efforts to be at the forefront of the cutting-edge field of digital twin, which the university committed a separate research initiative to earlier this year.

“Digital twin is transformative technology that holds the potential to improve everything from manufacturing plants to medical procedures,” Bochenek says. “With the innovative research being done by UCF faculty, and the support of Osceola County and Orlando Economic Partnership, and all of our partners, digital twin technology, like what we are building at NeoCity, stands to be this century’s next game changer.”

A Partnership that Bolsters Central Florida’s Economy

Orlando is ideally located for a digital twin hub as Bochenek notes the city already has a thriving modeling, simulation and training community with 200+ small- to midsize companies. The industry produces a $21.1 billion regional and statewide economic impact — making Central Florida the world hub for modeling, simulation and training. With SMST, and an expanding Central Florida Microelectronics Regional Cluster, UCF is positioned to supply the qualified talent and innovative research needed to grow this field.

In addition to its Center for NeoVation, NeoCity, will include a magnet STEM high school, urban farm, central plaza for community and corporate events, neighborhood parks and other sustainability infrastructure elements. The multi-billion-dollar venture will provide workforce housing and create more than 25,000 jobs.

“Not only is this the first major federal semiconductor investment in the United States, but the site they selected for this historical investment was right here in NeoCity,” says Osceola County Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington. “This is a significant validation of Osceola County’s grand vision to create high-wage, hi-tech jobs at NeoCity. The federal government’s investment accelerates our focused efforts to create more economic opportunities at a higher level than ever before.”

Funded by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan and administered by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Regional Challenge provides each award winner resources to rebuild regional economies, promote inclusive and equitable recovery, and create thousands of good-paying jobs in industries of the future, such as clean energy, next-generation manufacturing and biotechnology.

“As we invest and grow critical industries in the U.S., we want to create industry hubs in diverse communities across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release from the White House. “These grants will provide critical and historic funding directly to community coalitions to invest in new infrastructure, research and development, and workforce development programs while creating good-paying jobs, supporting workers, and prioritizing equity.”