Montana Tech to develop photonics testbed facility as part of $41 million Headwaters Tech Hub funding

A student with a Boston Dynamics robot


Montana Technological University is proud to announce the development of a rugged terrain test bed facility for unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, other types of robotics that utilize photonic sensor systems at its 150-acre Energy, Environment, & Innovation Field Campus, which is adjacent to the west side of campus. The project will be funded through $41 million awarded Tuesday to Headwaters Hub from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Students test a Boston dynamics robot

“The Headwaters Tech Hub will expand and enable Montana Tech’s vision for a field testing station directly adjacent to Montana Tech’s campus. The testing is an exciting repurpose of Butte’s historic underground mines, which will enable incredibly unique GPS-restricted and submerged testing environments,” Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School Dr. Angela Lueking said. “The project will expand hands-on learning opportunities for our students, and provide a means for industry partners to interact with both our faculty and our students. We are excited for the economic benefits this will provide to the campus and community.”

Students at a drone launchpad.

 EDA awarded a total of $504 million to only 12 Tech Hubs across the nation out of more than 300 initial applications. The Headwaters Hub includes the Butte, Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell areas. Its focus is smart photonic sensor systems.

“Senator Jon Tester's announcement today regarding funding for the Montana Headwaters Tech Hub is a game-changer for Butte-Silver Bow, Montana Tech, and our local industries,” Chief Executive of Butte-Silver Bow J.P. Gallagher said. “This investment has the power to unleash innovation, attract businesses, and create a thriving tech ecosystem right here in our community. We are thrilled about the potential impact of the Tech Hub on our economy and look forward to the exciting opportunities it will bring to Butte-Silver Bow."

The impact of the funding is intended to jumpstart the technology economy around the state.

“We’re thrilled that the decision-makers in D.C. have recognized the strength of  Montana’s tech industry. This incredible win results from more than 18 months of focused effort from an outstanding and deeply committed team. The Tech Hub investment will profoundly impact Montana’s economy and strengthen our nation’s security by growing domestic manufacturing and innovation in crucial technology areas” said Headwaters Tech Hub Executive Director Tim VanReken.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester said the investment in technology will help keep the United States competitive.

 “Montana is a big state that can do big things, and we’ve proven that we have what it takes to lead the nation in technological innovation that will ensure America can continue to outcompete countries like China,” Tester said. “That’s exactly why I fought to secure this major $41 million investment for the Headwaters Tech Hub, and it’s why I’ve served as a leading voice in the Senate advocating for the untapped potential of rural America. Bringing good-paying jobs back to the United States, securing our domestic supply chains, and developing next-generation technology starts with investments right here in the Treasure State, and I will continue to partner with the Headwaters team to make sure they have the resources they need to succeed.”

U.S. Senator Steve Daines highlighted the economic impact to the local economy.

“Montana is leading the country in tech innovation, which will help us win the race against China, create good-paying jobs here at home and further boost our economy,” Daines said. “From optics and photonics to quantum computing, I am grateful to help advance Montana’s ability to contribute even further to the important research, development, and jobs that will help strengthen our national security and help the country stay competitive globally.”

Governor Greg Gianforte also noted the importance of the investment.

“Montana continues to lead the nation in innovation,” Gianforte said. “Thanks to our growing dominance in new and emerging industries like photonics and quantum computing, Montana is quickly becoming the envy of the nation. This investment in Headwaters Hub, alongside our pro-business and pro-jobs policies, will help further make Montana the center of gravity for next generation research and technology, not only in the United States, but around the world.”

Full size and resolution photos available on request.