The autonomous systems revolution has arrived, and Tulsa is well-positioned to harness the power of these technologies to become the heartland’s “Tech Hub.”
A consortium of Tulsa partners called the Tulsa Hub for Equitable & Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA) recently submitted a proposal for the Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs program. This consortium is backed by a Steering Committee comprised of regional leaders, including Tulsa Community College, Black Tech Street, The University of Tulsa, Partner Tulsa, Oklahoma State University, Madison Strategies Group, and TEDC Creative Capital. EDA intends to designate at least 20 regions as Tech Hubs based on their ability to become globally competitive and advance U.S. national security while catalyzing the creation of good jobs for American workers at all skill levels, both equitably and inclusively.
Led by Tulsa Innovation Labs, THETA aims to turn the Tulsa region into a global hub for innovations in Trustworthy & Equitable Autonomous Systems (TEAS), which is expected to be a $1.36 trillion market by 2032. THETA’s application will focus on innovations in uncrewed aerial systems (UAS), generative artificial intelligence (AI), and cybersecurity technologies.
With a Tech Hubs designation, THETA will leverage the Tulsa region’s scientific strengths to enable society to realize the maximum benefit of autonomous technologies without compromising safety, security, privacy, or public trust. A Tech Hubs designation will also enable the region to pursue critical goals such as expanding economic opportunity for Black and Native Tulsans, leveraging our legacy of aerospace manufacturing to build future technologies, and insulating the region from the economy’s “boom-and-bust” cycles. EDA investment in Tech Hubs would enable the Tulsa region to capture up to $4 billion in global market share in autonomous systems and create up to 200,000 new, accessible jobs across the region.
Should THETA receive a designation, it will progress to Phase 2 where five to 10 consortia will receive implementation awards ranging from $50 million to $75 million. EDA is expected to announce designations in fall 2023.
Here are three reasons Tulsa should receive a Tech Hubs designation:
1) Tulsa's Technological Potential
THETA's strength lies in the region’s scientific capacity to drive TEAS innovations by leveraging the region’s proficiency in UAS/AS, cybersecurity, and complementary technology domains. From UAS technologies at Oklahoma State University (OSU) to cybersecurity innovations at The University of Tulsa (TU), the region’s strengths provide a fertile ground for AS development. Initiatives such as the Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI), the LaunchPad Center for Advanced Air Mobility, the Oklahoma Cyber Innovation Institute (OCII), the Institute for Robotics, AI, and Autonomy (IRAA) and the Counter-UAS (CUAS) Center of Excellence demonstrate the region’s commitment to cutting-edge technologies.
The innovations generated by the region’s R&D assets are being commercialized, tested, deployed, and manufactured in the Tulsa region. Tulsa’s startup community is backed by growing entrepreneurial support organizations, such as Build in Tulsa’s efforts to create hundreds of new tech companies as a pathway to Black wealth creation, and risk capital. The region is also home to nationally unique testing facilities such as the Skyway Range, a beyond visual line of sight (BvLOS) testing corridor for UAS. Tulsa is a center of aerospace manufacturing, with more than 3,000 acres of shovel-read industrial sites, some specifically for advanced mobility and autonomous systems.
Tulsa’s robust technology and commercialization assets are amplified by one of the strongest TEAS-capable workforces in the country. Tulsa is home to a TEAS workforce of 96,000 individuals – nearly a fifth of the overall workforce – specializing in areas ranging from technology to production. This pool, growing 4.3 times faster than other sectors, offers THETA an abundant resource for expertise and talent.
2) Robust Regional Collaboration
THETA is co-led by a group of regional organizations with a broad interest in advancing technology and innovation, including Tulsa Community College, Black Tech Street, The University of Tulsa, Partner Tulsa, Oklahoma State University, Madison Strategies Group, and TEDC Creative Capital. These organizations are joined by more than 40 other regional partners spanning academia, private sector, government, economic development organizations, labor unions, and workforce development, among others.
Most of these organizations have deep commitments to advancing the Tulsa region’s leadership in autonomous systems, and most of these organizations are also partners in the Tulsa Regional Advance Mobility (TRAM) Cluster’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) award. Collectively, THETA partners have invested more than $215 million in TEAS-related initiatives, such as the LaunchPad Center for Advanced Air Mobility at OSU’s Tulsa campus, the Oklahoma Cyber Innovation Institute at TU, and a partnership between Black Tech Street and Microsoft to advance equitable, generative AI technologies.
3) Equity & Diversity at the Core
Tulsa is building a Tech Hub in the shadow of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the historic exclusion of Black and tribal citizens from economic opportunity. This gives our region acute insight into what happens when diverse voices are excluded during major inflection points and has led THETA to embed equity in every aspect of Tulsa’s Tech Hub.
As a result, THETA is intentionally co-led by organizations such as Black Tech Street to help ensure the benefits of EDA investment accrue equitably to underserved populations. THETA also intends to leverage Tech Hubs to build capacity at under-resourced tribal partners, such as Osage Nation, in order to meaningfully leverage federal funding to expand economic opportunity for their citizens.
Further, it is critical that the next generation of TEAS technologies is unbiased and does not perpetuate systemic inequities, either by design or in practice. Through Black Tech Street’s leadership, Tulsa will become a center of excellence in the development of equitable AI technologies, and these developments will be closely tied to THETA’s technological developments.
The Tulsa Hub for Equitable & Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA) is not just a vision; it's a tangible roadmap to secure Tulsa's position as a leading Tech Hub. By aligning technology, equity, workforce development, and collaboration, THETA is poised to not only capture a substantial share of the AS global market but also create a thriving ecosystem of innovation, opportunity, and inclusive growth. As the world accelerates toward the future of autonomy, Tulsa stands ready to lead the way.