Rice to the rescue

Houston program in the running for prestigious $10 million prize

Rice's Baker Institute could change the fortunes of rural Texans. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University is once again in the spotlight for innovation, this time for its work in potentially assisting rural communities across the Lone Star State. And this idea could score the university a $10 million prize.

A new project proposed by the Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy is among five finalists for the coveted Lone Star Prize, the school announced. The Baker Institute project proposal, titled "Texas Dirt: The Key to Environment, Economy and Resilience," aims to transform the state's environment "through implementation of a soil carbon storage market while growing new economic opportunities for rural Texans" according to a press release.

Atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes to climate change, which disproportionately affects poor and marginalized populations, according to the Baker Institute team.

"Rural communities have long been disadvantaged relative to the urban and industrial centers that are focal points for economic activity and CO2 emissions," the team wrote in a project description. "A soil carbon market is a Texan approach that addresses both of these issues as part of a long-term solution." The team aims to "implement a Texas soil carbon storage market that utilizes photosynthesis to abate atmospheric CO2 by storing it as organic matter in soils of prairies, farms, ranches and grasslands of Texas."

Beyond an economic boost, say the team, benefits the Texas water supply, regional flood resilience, and the restoration of local ecosystems.

As for the prestigious prize, the Texas-based, statewide competition was launched in early 2020 by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Lever for Change to improve the lives of Texans and their communities, per a statement.

Project members include attorney Jim Blackburn, a professor in the practice of environmental law at Rice and co-director of the university's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED); Caroline Masiello, a professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice; and Kenneth Medlock, the James A. Baker III and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics and senior director of the Baker Institute's Center for Energy Studies.

Other statewide finalists include Austin's JUST Community, which invests in low-income, female entrepreneurs to create more resilient communities in the U.S.; Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which will will improve quality of life and mental health access; the Dallas location of Merit America, which will will build new pathways to upwardly mobile careers for low-wage Texans without bachelor's degrees; and Austin's Texas Water Trade, which aims to deliver clean water to households most in need.

More than 172 proposals were submitted for the Lone Star Prize. A final grant recipient will be announced in late spring 2021.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

innovation delivered

Self-driving pizza delivery goes live in Houston

Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads. Photo courtesy of Nuro

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Steam the episode here.

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