Imagining ARPA-I Workshop

Background and Purpose

On July 26, 2022, MIT Mobility Initiative, MIT Washington Office, and The Engine hosted a workshop with leaders from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and infrastructure stakeholders — industry veterans, startup founders, federal, state and local policymakers and regulators, academics and investors.

The purpose of this convening was to engage a broad, diverse set of stakeholders in a series of ideation exercises to imagine what a set of ambitious advanced research programs could focus on to remake the future of American infrastructure. This read-out builds on a partnership FAS and the Day One Project have with the Department of Transportation to support solutions-based research and development. You can learn more about our work here.

The workshop consisted of two sessions. In the first working session, attendees discussed key challenges in infrastructure and possible research priority areas for ARPA-I. In the second half of the first session, participants were asked to come up with priority program areas that ARPA-I could focus on

During the second working session, participants considered the barriers that prevent the translation of breakthrough science and engineering into infrastructure reality, and opportunities for ARPA-I to smooth some of those frictions as an institution.

Resulting Recommendations

While some of the recommendations below may ultimately fall outside of ARPA-I’s mandate, or may require further Congressional authorization, they emphasize the need for ARPA-I to be strategically coordinating future deployment at scale even at the earliest stages of a project.

Deploying capital strategically

  • Use existing or new authorities, such as consortium Other Transactions Authority, prize challenges, and public-private capital matching to ensure maximum flexibility and capital availability to fund complex, capital-intensive infrastructure investments. 
  • Create an Office of Scale-up within ARPA-I to ensure coordination across all “valleys of death” from early-stage basic research to full scale deployment. Mechanisms can range from early-stage open seed topics to later-stage Scale-up and deployment loan contracting mechanisms. 

Establishing development and test infrastructure

  • The costs of infrastructure testbeds are prohibitive for most innovators. Creating government-sponsored testbeds, with participation from standards and regulatory bodies, would decrease the need for private capital and could create early linkages between innovators and those in charge of deployment. Existing national labs may have relevant expertise and equipment. Opening up access to these facilities through consortia, lighter weight Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), or other low-friction mechanisms may also have similar effects.

Catalyzing stakeholder collaboration

  • For early-stage researchers, create a community to share, discuss, and reflect upon the innovative landscape of infrastructure projects. To help reduce later-stage friction, create an Office of Strategic Engagement that would report to the ARPA-I director. This office would coordinate ARPA-I investment areas with external stakeholders, including academia, corporate partners, regulatory bodies, and, perhaps, even local community deployment advocacy.