A city being built in the desert of southern New Mexico has the potential to house 35,000 people, but no one will ever live there, CNN reports.

It’s called CITE — Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation. It’s a $1 billion, 15 square mile model of a city being built by Pegasus Global Holdings, a telecommunications and tech firm, for the sole purpose of experimentation. Pegasus’ managing director Robert Brumley says, “The vision is an environment where new products, services and technologies can be demonstrated and tested without disrupting everyday life.”

CITE will provide an extra step after testing something out in a lab, before introducing it to the public. Driverless cars can experience reactive roads; homes could be designed with robotic features or with the capacity to withstand natural disasters; alternative energy sources can be tested on a large scale.

Other “future cities” currently exist, including the waste-free city of Masdar in the UAE and PlanIT Valley in Portugal, but Brumley believes that this design is unique because “The facility is open to anybody who wants to test.”

Cite New Mexico
Courtesy of Cite

Some are skeptical about experimentation without the presence of people. Co-director of the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities Steve Rayner says,:

Technologies are not merely artifacts, they are social systems intermediated by materials and devices. The idea of ‘testing’ complex socio-technical systems without the people is bound to yield misleading results because real people frequently interact with materials and devices in ways that are not anticipated by the designer.

He adds that people and cities are not interchangeable, so even if people were added to CITE for the sake of more thorough experimentation, researchers still wouldn’t be able to predict how other cities with different cultures and different behavioral patterns will react to a certain technology.

CITE will be ready for operation as early as 2018.