Airport welcomes newest tech innovations for FLITE funding

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Renu Robotics is returning for round three to conduct additional pilot testing of the Renubot. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Gerald R. Ford International Airport is piloting new products and services that will revolutionize local and national travel. 

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority on Tuesday, Jan. 24, announced the third round of companies that will receive a total of $171,000 in grant funding through the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship, or FLITE.

One of the first airport-based initiatives in the nation, FLITE provides funding to encourage the design, development and pilot testing of new products and services in a live airport environment. FLITE has completed two rounds of funding and will launch a third round this spring. 

The five companies that will receive grant funding through this next round include: 

  • Cyberworks Robotics: Retrofitting autonomous navigation technology for OEM products
  • Deaf AI: Training machines with artificial intelligence to use sign language to improve the experience of communicating with those who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Renu Robotics: Revolutionizing the way aviation facilities conduct vegetation management with autonomous lawnmowers
  • Solartonic: Enhancing security resilience with autonomous smart solar-powered lighting and camera systems with reduced operating costs
  • UV Angel: Using first-of-its-kind software to reduce bacteria, viruses and molds on frequently touched surfaces and in the air

This announcement follow’s FLITE’s second round of funding, which was awarded in September.

“After the successful completion of two rounds of funding, FLITE has proven to be a key asset to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and the state of Michigan’s local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Tory Richardson, president and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. “It has become a leading platform in transforming the aviation industry through the introduction of new technologies that advance our ability to provide a world-class experience to all passengers and guests.”

This is the second year for Renu Robotics, a San Antonio-based autonomous vegetation management systems company. Renu Robotics is returning for round three to conduct additional pilot testing of its product. 

“Round three allows us to further explore the Renubot’s mowing capabilities in areas of the airport where larger mowers cannot easily access, as well as a cost-savings comparison,” said Tim Matus, CEO of Renu Robotics. “We’re also continuing to look into FAA requirements for operating on airport grounds and how those regulations are applicable.”

FLITE is offered in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Seamless Ventures, Southwest Airlines, Stantec GenerationAV and, most recently, the West Michigan Aviation Academy. 

The West Michigan Aviation Academy is a tuition-free public charter high school that allows students to focus on employment fields in the aviation industry while completing their high school education. 

“The West Michigan Aviation Academy was very excited about the possibility to bring real-world innovation to the classroom with the partnership with FLITE,” said George Pavey, dean of aviation for West Michigan Aviation Academy. “Many of these cutting-edge projects connected with the FLITE program have provided countless opportunities for our students to experience learning beyond the academic setting. To see and experience the future of aviation and engineering further enhances our ability to develop the next generation of industry professionals.”

Grant funding was allocated to FLITE from MEDC through the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.

Cyberworks Robotics, based in Ontario, Canada, is a global provider of specialized autonomous self-driving systems for airport wheelchairs, autonomous industrial carpet cleaners, autonomous floor scrubbers and autonomous tow-tuggers. Specifically designed for airport operations, its technology is designed to operate in crowded large-scale environments to safely mitigate labor shortages and reduce operating costs.

Deaf AI, based in Toronto is an artificial intelligence venture that focuses on improving communication for those who use American Sign Language. Its technology converts flight and boarding announcements into sign language at airport terminals.

Solartonic, based in Ypsilanti, provides off-grid solar-powered smart poles that are safe, resilient and sustainable. Its smart solahub platform integrates cloud-controlled devices with framework products for LED lights, CCTV cameras, Wi-Fi networks, IoT sensors and digital signage through remote monitoring and control.

UV Angel, based in Grand Haven, is a disinfection technology company that uses UV Light, advanced optical engineering and a first-of-its-kind digital software platform, to disinfect surfaces by neutralizing bacteria, viruses and molds.

“We look forward to placing our UV Angel Clean Air Technology in the Ford International Airport,” said Tom Byrne, CEO of UV Angel. “The aviation industry has a critical need to protect personnel and travelers, and the FLITE program will provide invaluable insight and feedback to further our mission to make indoor spaces cleaner, safer and healthier for everyone.”

Applications for round four of FLITE are being accepted now through June 30.