Michigan’s Gerald R Ford International Airport Authority has introduced the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship, known as FLITE.

One of the first such airport-based initiatives in the United States, FLITE provides funding to encourage design, development and pilot testing of new products and services in a live airport environment.

FLITE has unveiled the first round of grants, providing $150,000 to three companies: Aurrigo, an Auto-Sim software platform to create a “digital twin” of airside operations; autonomous mobility device Whill, and Sunflower Labs, a remote autonomous drone-in-a-box security system.

“Ford International Airport has long been an economic catalyst for West Michigan,” said Tory Richardson, president and CEO of the Gerald R Ford International Airport Authority. “FLITE enables us to harness that power and partner with entrepreneurs and established companies focused on developing innovative new products and services to improve air travel and foster a state-wide ecosystem for innovation, entrepreneurship and tech-sector growth.

“We can now offer this select group of companies the invaluable opportunity to test their products in the real-world airport environment. Successful products can scale up to meet the demands of larger airports while improving the overall experience for our guests.”

Grand Rapids-based Seamless, an innovation facilitation organisation, is providing proof of concept coordination for grantees, while Stantec Generation AV(R), the autonomous vehicle practice of Edmonton, Canada-based global design firm Stantec, is providing world-class experience in AV planning and deployment, including safety verification. The firm has also established an advisory committee of airport subject matter experts to provide guidance and evaluation of the technology applications. 

FLITE’s new advisory committee will provide feedback on the applications and pathways to scale proven and successful projects beyond Ford International Airport. Members were chosen based on their commitment to innovation, industry leadership and technology solutions. They include Edmonton, Nashville, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa international airports, in addition to the US Air Force and Vantage Airport Group.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is committing an initial $150,000 to FLITE through the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, which is working closely with Ford International Airport officials to ensure a successful launch. More than 20 businesses submitted grant applications for the first rounding of funding. The second round of grants will be awarded in June.

Ford International Airport has identified six core focus areas for new technology advancements through FLITE: security; automation; smart infrastructure; data analytics; hold room of the future; and safety.