Ford International Airport Launches FLITE to Develop High-Tech Travel Solutions

Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority has launched the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship (FLITE).

The initiative provides companies with grants and airport testing opportunities for developing air travel technology solutions.

FLITE is supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Southwest Airlines and is one of the first airport-based initiatives in the nation. The programme aims to encourage the design, development and pilot testing of new products and services in a live airport environment.

On 19 January, FLITE unveiled the first round of grants, providing 150,000 USD to three companies: Aurrigo, WHILL and Sunflower Labs.

Aurrigo has developed an Auto-Sim® software platform that creates a digital twin of airside operations. Meanwhile, WHILL is launching an autonomous mobility device to be used in the terminal, and Sunflower Labs will be testing its remote autonomous drone-in-a-box security system.

Aurrigo AutoSim
Aurrigo’s AutoSim is a sophisticated cloud-based tool that models operations for airports, airlines and ground handling companies

Last year, the MEDC awarded a grant to Pratt Miller to test its Large Area Autonomous Disinfecting vehicle at Ford International Airport. The success of this test led to the creation of FLITE to enable more innovative products to launch at the airport.

Tory Richardson, president and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority, said:

“The Ford International Airport has long been an economic catalyst for West Michigan. FLITE enables us to harness that power and partner with entrepreneurs and established companies focused on developing innovative new products and services. We can now offer this select group of companies the invaluable opportunity to test their products in the real-world airport environment. Successful products, as we saw last year with the UV disinfecting robot, can scale up to meet the demands of larger airports while improving the overall experience for our guests.”

Ford International Airport has identified six core focus areas for technological advancements through FLITE. They hope the new technology will further advance airport security to enable a safe guest experience. The programme will also prioritise safety for employees and equipment on the ramp by focusing on enhanced safety audits and real-time notifications. Meanwhile, a focus on data analytics will provide timely, accurate data to decision-makers.

In addition, a core focus on automation will help optimise workforce resources and result in efficient operations, while new technologies will also be deployed to optimise smart infrastructure resources. Moreover, the programme hopes to focus on a hold room of the future to improve passenger experience during the time prior to boarding.

Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, said:

“Michigan is and always has been a home for innovators, where next-generation mobility technologies can be developed, tested and deployed to address real-world challenges. We are proud to continue that rich legacy today through this innovative partnership with Ford International Airport and Southwest Airlines and congratulate the first cohort of FLITE for helping us shape the future of mobility as we know it here in Michigan.”

As part of the programme, FLITE’s new advisory committee will also provide feedback on how the products can be applied beyond Ford International Airport. Members include: Edmonton International Airport, Nashville International Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, San Diego International Airport, Tampa International Airport, the US Air Force, and Vantage Airport Group, who are all committed to innovation, industry leadership, and technology solutions.

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