Doug Ebersole, executive director of the Air Force Research Laboatory, said Monday the AFRL-Wright Brothers Institute office and meeting space at 444 E. Second St. in downtown Dayton is expected to provide an ideal workplace for younger researchers. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

AFRL exec: Arcade may be future ‘viable option’

The executive director of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said Monday he’s looking forward to setting up an outpost in downtown Dayton’s budding “Innovation District.”

If the “experiment” at 444 E. Second St. works, it may lead to other downtown moves — perhaps even an AFRL office one day in Dayton’s newly developing Arcade, said that executive director, Douglas Ebersole.

RELATED: New downtown Air Force office part of emerging ‘innovation district’

“It’s a viable option,” Ebersole said in an interview Monday, referring to the arcade. “That decision will be informed by the pace and growth and activity at the Arcade.”

AFRL has a two-year lease on space at 444 E. Second with the Wright Brothers Institute, The Entrepreneurs Center and other development-minded partners and small businesses. Software firm Mile Two LLC is on the building’s second floor. And Portland, Ore.-based Galois Inc. will have a team of people in that building as early as this summer, Aaron Miller, the company’s director of business strategy and operations told this news outlet earlier this month.

Maybe half a dozen workers will have a home in the building by May 1, in addition to businesses like Mile Two and Galois, said Les McFawn, director of the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) and a former AFRL executive director. But about 50 to 60 AFRL researchers are expected to spend at least part of their time in the building not too long after that.

“Our younger workforce really wants an environment where they can get out of their cubicles and meet with their colleagues in this kind of open environment,” Ebersole said.

Matt Clark, AFRL branch chief, Autonomous Control Branch, says AFRL researchers from across the nation will find a place at what downtown advocates sometimes call “444” — and their work is cut out for them.

“The collision of all of those groups will create innovation here in downtown Dayton around the central topic of safe verifiable software,” Clark said. “Software is huge, it’s complex, it’s hard. It gets harder when you talk about machine learning and autonomy. How do we make sure it’s trustworthy?”

The work won’t be classified but it will be important, he said.

The AFRL-WBI partnership — banding together to work in a downtown space — is fairly unusual nationally, observers said in interviews. And the Department of Defense is watching, McFawn said.

“We’ve had six DoD agencies in the past six months visit us,” he said.

The Entrepreneurs Center, University of Dayton Research Institute, Wright State University and others are expected to be on site, too.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to work with these cutting-edge researchers to showcase, first of all, the innovation economy in this town,” said Scott Koorndyk, president of The Entrepreneurs Center.

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