Boeing plans MIT engineering center focused on pilotless aircraft technology

Boeing will create an engineering center focused on pilotless aircraft technology in a commercial real estate project under construction at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The world’s largest planemaker is the first tenant to commit to MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative, a research, retail and academic complex in Cambridge, MIT and Boeing said Wednesday in a statement. Boeing agreed to lease 100,000-square-feet in research and lab space that’s set to open in 2020.

Boeing has been pouring resources into the strange new flying machines being created to haul people and cargo above increasingly congested urban roadways, which executives believe could transform aerospace in a matter of years — not decades. For MIT, the addition increases the list of blue chip companies located around its campus, which is renowned for biotech and technology startups.

The Aerospace Autonomy Center will house Aurora Flight Sciences, a leading designer of unmanned aerial vehicles that Boeing bought last year, and which has roots at MIT. The new engineering hub will also support research for Boeing NeXt, whose initiatives include the complex traffic control systems needed to manage skies filled with flying taxis and cargo drones.

“By investing in this new research facility, we are creating a hub where our engineers can collaborate with other Boeing engineers and research partners around the world and leverage the Cambridge innovation ecosystem,” Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

Boeing’s ties to MIT are intertwined with the company’s history. Wong Tsu, the first engineer employed by company founder Bill Boeing a century ago, was an MIT graduate, as were Donald Douglas Sr. and James S. McDonnell. They founded companies that eventually merged to become McDonnell Douglas, which Boeing acquired in 1997.

Boeing employs more than 800 MIT alumni around the world. The company also pledged to be a lead donor on an $18 million wind tunnel for the university billed as the largest, most advanced of its kind in the US.

The five-year Kendall Square Initiative aims to revitalize the area with six sites slated for housing, retail, research, academic, office and open spaces. Kendall Square is located in MIT’s east campus area.

“Boeing will be a great addition to the Kendall Square innovation ecosystem,” Steve Marsh, managing director of MIT’s real estate group, said in a statement. “This is as close to MIT’s campus as industry innovators can physically get, and that helps promote important collaborations.”

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