Created in the Corridor: Crystal Group

A Crystal Group server used in autonomous vehicle development pictured at the company's headquarters in Hiawatha, Iowa.

CBS2/FOX28 News showed you last month how local researchers and business recruiters are working with federal and state transportation officials to advance the development of autonomous technology on the roads--a collaborative effort to bring self-driving vehicles to the market. It turns out, there’s another player paving the way to the future of driving, Created in the Corridor.

The National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development. “We did the first automated vehicle study in 1994,” said Daniel McGehee, NADS Director.

Its decades of ground-breaking research was instrumental in the Corridor securing one of only ten autonomous vehicle proving ground designations from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Interstate-380 has now been digitally mapped to facilitate further research.

All this is welcome news to Scott Kongable, President of Crystal Group, whose precision, rugged computers designed and custom-built in Hiawatha can be found in many of the U.S. military’s surveillance and reconnaissance vehicles: The Air Force’s MQ-8 Unmanned Autonomous Helicopter, the Navy’s P8 Poseidon sub-hunting aircraft and the THAAD Ballistic Missile Defense System to name a few. Now, Crystal computers can be found in automated cars on your local roadways.

“Intel came to us and said we’d like to use Intel technology in this industry,” said Kongable. “Let’s develop an integrated system that uses our technology and (Crystal Group’s) packaging and create a truly autonomous vehicle development computer.”

Just a year-and-a-half in, Crystal Group's autonomous division is turning out ten to fifteen units a day for some of the biggest names in the auto industry. Explained Kongable, “I can’t tell all of our customers…most of them are the major OEM’s. You’ll see their cars driving up and down the road every day. Also some trucking companies.”

Right now, autonomous business makes up just five percent of Crystal Group’s portfolio. But Kongable projects it to grow by at least thirty percent a year for the next several years. And legislation moving through Congress right now to speed self-driving cars to market can’t hurt. “The idea of fast-tracking it I think is very good. It’ll keep some of the regulatory things from slowing down a market that is good for us. It should speed up the revenue,” Kongable said.

Crystal Group’s overall growth of roughly forty percent a year is painting a bright future for the company’s 180 employee-owners. They’ll be moving into a 111,000 square foot expansion next summer, giving the autonomous division more space in the company's current building. And while they aren’t working directly with the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa City, it is an avenue to explore, noted Kongable. “That is certainly something we’d be interested in…in understanding how we could support each other and help this industry come to fruition even faster.”

Right now, the National Advanced Driving Simulator is looking for volunteer drivers to test mapping and data collection systems on the area’s interstates. If you are interested in participating we have a link to more information HERE. And for more on Crystal Group, visit the company’s website HERE.

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