Investor Spotlight: Southwest Research Institute

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development (R&D) organizations in the United States. SwRI provides contract research and development services to industrial and government clients. SwRI’s nine technical divisions offer multidisciplinary, problem-solving services in a variety of areas in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s broad expertise is used to solve some of the most difficult technical challenges in environments ranging from Deep Sea to Deep Space™.

SwRI was founded by Thomas Baker Slick, Jr., in 1947 to create an institution that would use advanced science and applied technology for the betterment of humankind. Slick’s vision developed into a reality beyond his wildest dreams. What started as a small operation on a converted cattle ranch has become the home of many industrial and technological advancements.

SwRI’s headquarters occupies more than 2.3 million square feet of office and laboratory space on more than 1,200 acres in San Antonio. The Institute also has technical offices and laboratories in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Austin, Texas; Warner Robins, Georgia; Boulder, Colorado; Ogden, Utah; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Hanover and Rockville, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Beijing, China; among other locations.

Projects & Advancements
Tom Slick’s spirit of innovation continues to this day in San Antonio at SwRI. Practically all of SwRI’s research and development projects have impact beyond the San Antonio community. These include research in pharmaceuticals development, robotics, and fire safety.

SwRI traffic engineers, under contract with the Texas Department of Transportation, developed the TransGuide intelligent transportation system. TransGuide uses cameras, message signs, and fiber optics to identify accidents and emergencies, determine travel times, and provide that information to motorists through over-highway message signs. The system has been deployed on highways from New England to Florida.

In food safety, SwRI’s experienced team of chemists and scientists performs chemical and biological testing for quality and safety across the food industry for farmers, distributors, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.

SwRI researchers provide technical expertise in water resource management, including the Edwards Aquifer, San Antonio’s main source of drinking water. Hydrologists and geophysicists conduct research to characterize and model aquifers with an emphasis in evaluating recharge zones.

Just after midnight on New Year’s day 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule, an icy, barren object in the Kuiper Belt region beyond the planets in Earth’s solar system. This space mission is led by SwRI. In addition to this Ultima Thule flyby, humankind’s most distant exploration, the New Horizons mission provided incredible views and science of the Pluto system.

“The flyby of Ultima Thule, 4 billion miles from Earth, is an incredible technical achievement and historical milestone. The New Horizons mission represents exploration at its finest,” said SwRI President and CEO Adam L. Hamilton, P.E. “The entire science team and mission partners have rewritten the textbooks on Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.”

The spacecraft’s Ultima Thule flyby is an event 13 years in the making. New Horizons launched in 2006 and has since explored distant worlds more than 3 billion miles from the Sun. The spacecraft will continue its exploration of the Kuiper Belt until at least 2021.

About 60 percent of all power in North America comes from the burning of fossil fuel. Most power plants in the United States are close to 30 years old, with many operating at 35 percent efficiency or less while creating significant greenhouse gas emissions from burning large amounts of hydrocarbon fuels.

SwRI broke ground on a novel pilot-scale 10-megawatt supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) electric power generation plant to demonstrate high efficiency, lower emissions, and lower-cost benefits of this new technology.

The Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) facility, being built on SwRI’s campus, is the first of its kind and will serve as a technology demonstration power plant. sCO2 is carbon dioxide held above a critical temperature and pressure, which causes it to act as a gas while having the density of a liquid. It’s also nontoxic and nonflammable, and its supercritical state makes sCO2 a highly efficient fluid to generate power because small changes in temperature or pressure cause significant shifts in its density. Because of the efficiency of sCO2 as a thermal medium, STEP turbomachinery can be one-tenth the size of conventional power plant components, providing the potential to shrink the environmental footprint as well as the construction cost of any new facilities. The new STEP facility will be significantly smaller than today’s power plants. For example, a desk-sized sCO2 turbine could power 10,000 homes.

“The STEP pilot plant is the home of a truly innovative technology developed in Texas that is about to change the way we think about power generation,” Hamilton said. “This new facility’s ability to generate power in a way that is more efficient, cost-effective, less harmful to the environment, and requiring less space is remarkable. This project has the potential to revolutionize the industry as we know it.”

SwRI is a leading provider of algorithms and component technologies for automated driving for both commercial and military vehicles. As part of that initiative, SwRI developed Ranger, a patented approach to vehicle localization that enables precise navigation for automated vehicles. The technology was recognized as one of the 100 most significant innovations for 2015 by R&D Magazine.

Ranger uses a ground-facing camera and localization algorithms to provide precise position and orientation measurements. Ranger images the unique “fingerprint” of road surfaces, allowing precise automated driving within 2 centimeters, similar to the most accurate (and most expensive) GPS systems. Ranger, however, can operate in areas or environments where GPS has poor performance or fails completely.

Talent & Teamwork
SwRI takes great pride in being a good neighbor. SwRI staff is experienced at developing solutions that help build a better tomorrow today — and that practical, innovative spirit carries through to community interactions.

“San Antonio is a prime location for our headquarters,” Hamilton said. “The area’s mild climate and myriad attractions help us attract and retain talented scientists and engineers from all over the world. In fact, our employees have degrees from over 500 universities worldwide. Our scientists and engineers regularly collaborate with colleagues from some of the city’s institutions of higher education, including The University of Texas at San Antonio and St. Mary’s University, as well as the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and UT Health San Antonio.”

SwRI is the ninth largest employer in San Antonio and, as a research and development organization, the next generation of scientists and engineers is key to our continued success. SwRI especially values programs and activities that support science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for students. The organization sponsors internships and scholarships and employees serve as science fair judges and classroom speakers for area schools. Staff members also serve the community as adjunct and adjoint professors at area universities to help train and encourage the next generation of STEM students.

The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County is the Institute’s main recipient of charitable donations. SwRI staff, leadership, and their families join for “SwRI Cares,” an event held annually, to improve the facilities at local United Way agencies. Past years have offered the opportunity to garden at the local food bank and paint the playground at a local children’s home.

Many SwRI staff members contribute to volunteer efforts year-round. Employees generously donate time and other resources to support worthwhile causes such as the San Antonio Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Special Olympics, Toys for Tots, school supply drives, animal care services, and blood drives.

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