Atkinson Begins New Role as ARPA-I Director of Technology

Chris Atkinson, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering

Chris Atkinson has made a name for himself in the field of advanced mobility research.

Atkinson, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, joined the Ohio State University in 2020 to lead the Smart Mobility initiative housed in the Ohio State Office of Research. He works to enhance Ohio State’s existing research centers and institutes in the mobility sciences and collaborates with industry partners to create corporate, foundation, state and federal partnerships.

Prior to joining Ohio State, he spent six years with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in the U.S. Department of Energy where he served as a program director, developing programs to fund high-risk, high-reward innovative technologies for energy generation, storage, distribution and usage. Now on leave from Ohio State, Atkinson is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to help set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Infrastructure (ARPA-I), a new agency aimed at building the future of transportation through developing infrastructure that is safe, secure, efficient and resilient, while achieving net-zero emissions and increasing equity and access to mobility for all.

“The innovation part of the transportation infrastructure R&D pipeline is missing and that’s the part that ARPA-I fills,” said Atkinson, who serves as director of technology for the agency. “It’s very exciting setting up a new federal agency and setting the direction on the research and technology front is incredibly rewarding.” 

ARPA-I will develop specific solutions to transportation problems such as enhancing roadway intersection safety for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users and improving mobility through innovative technologies like automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced materials, while also taking human factors and human behaviors into consideration.

“Having practitioners, creators and innovators assist in the development of new federal funding agencies and programs is incredibly important,” said Atkinson. “Faculty have a view into both technology and education – how our future leaders are being trained. They bring new perspectives and new approaches to solving both new and old problems.”

Atkinson says that even in the early stages he’s realizing what an impact his time with ARPA-I will have on his future work at Ohio State. “It’s changed my attitude towards engineering - it’s reinforced to me the need to educate our students about the broader societal and ethical implications of what we do. These are obvious things, but we don’t always think about them. We tend to look for a technical solution but often there are more accessible human-centered solutions.”


Written by, Colleen Herr Communications Specialist, CAR