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Opening of Center for Complex Engineering Systems at KACST and MIT

New center will fund research in complex engineering systems and infrastructure development.
A ceremony today in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh marks the opening of the new Center for Complex Engineering Systems (CCES), a collaboration between MIT and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). The center's co-directors are Olivier de Weck, MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems, and KACST professor Anas Alfaris. The co-directors — as well as John Williams, professor in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems Division (ESD) and director of MIT's Geospatial Data Center, and Carlo Ratti, associate professor and director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab — are attending and giving presentations.

At MIT, the center will be housed in the ESD, giving it access to all five MIT schools via dual and joint faculty appointments. At KACST, the center will be located in state-of-the-art facilities in Riyadh. The MIT part of the center will include CCES offices, collaborative and high-performance computing capabilities, and an instrumentation prototyping lab. The portion of the center located at KACST will mirror this structure. The two sides of the center will be linked through the Collaborative Design Laboratory (CDL), using the latest in virtual-presence technology.

The center's two co-directors, de Weck at MIT and Alfaris at KACST, report to a governing committee. During an initial two-year period and review, the center will focus on three anchor projects. In year six, following another major review, the center will take on more projects as it transitions to new topics that emerge from research insights. The center will establish an industry consortium representing key stakeholders in the area of complex systems. Saudi women engineers and scientists will be encouraged to participate in the center's research and projects. The research collaboration agreement between MIT and KACST went into effect July 1 and spans a 10-year period from 2011 to 2020.

Each of the three anchor projects represents an umbrella under which several research activities will be carried out, with durations of two to three years each. The first anchor project, Evolvable Cities, will focus on modeling and shaping the urban metabolism and future evolution of Saudi Arabia's old cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Mecca, as well as that of its six new economic and technology cities, such as King Abdullah Economic City. The second anchor project, Multimodal Mobility, will study how the cities should be optimally linked to each other and to the rest of the world using interacting modes of transportation such as air, rail, roads and waterways. The third project, Sustainable Resources, will analyze the ways in which energy, water, industrial material cycles and food production can synergize with each other to improve sustainability and reduce Saudi Arabia's reliance on nonrenewable sources and foreign imports. A pool of funds will be available for completed projects, which will be selected from an open call for proposals.

"We expect that the research resulting from CCES will lead to a significant improvement in our ability to analyze, design and manage complex engineering systems," de Weck says. "The center offers opportunities for MIT faculty and students to participate in this emerging area of research and practice."

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