CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids will roll out its third round of FLITE companies in March, giving startups a chance to test their technology in the real world.

FLITE, or the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship program, allocates funding to airport-based initiatives, products and services. This year, $171,000 will be divided among five companies: Cyberworks Robotics, Deaf AI, Renu Robotics, Solartonic and UV Angel.

“During the pandemic, we had a lot of companies wanting to test their innovated technologies centered around cleaning,” airport COO Alex Peric said. “We really saw the value in and the impact of giving startups that chance of testing their product in a live airport environment.”

This is the third round of the FLITE program, which is a partnership between the airport authority, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Seamless Ventures, Southwest Airlines, Stantec GenerationAV and the West Michigan Aviation Academy.

“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 airport authority.

A WHILL autonomous wheelchair like the ones being used at Ford Airport. (Courtesy)
A WHILL autonomous wheelchair like the ones being used at Ford Airport. (Courtesy)

Past companies and products that continue to serve the Ford airport include an autonomous wheelchair that helps passengers safely arrive at their gates.

“One of the companies we are partnering with (this round) is Deaf AI,” Peric said. “That company is using artificial intelligence to help folks who are hard of hearing or deaf with American Sign Language.”

Airport and travel officials hope that if successful, these companies will relocate their headquarters to West Michigan.

“We are looking to generate an overall economic impact with these companies,” he said.

Applications for round four of FLITE can be submitted online through June 30.