Ford International Airport Celebrates First Cohort of FLITE Grantees, Companies Showcased at Demo Day

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

One of the First Airport-Based Initiatives in the Nation Successfully Supported Three Air Travel Solution Companies in Development, Pilot Testing of New Products

LANSING, Mich. – Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II joined the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and Southwest Airlines, in announcing the completion of the first round of funding through the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship, or FLITE.

FLITE provides grants and testing opportunities to companies focused on bringing emerging air travel solutions to market. The three companies to successfully complete pilot testing and development of new products and services in a live airport environment included:

  • Aurrigo: Leveraging their Auto-Sim® software platform, created a “digital twin” of airport operations to optimize targeted metrics and increase operational efficiency.
  • WHILL: Deployed their autonomous mobility device to increase traveler independence and reduce wait times for wheelchair requests.
  • Sunflower Labs: Deployed their remote autonomous drone-in-a-box security system used to conduct inspections and security monitoring tasks.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation provided funding for FLITE, committing an initial $150,000 to this first round of grants available through the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform. This initiative aligns next-gen infrastructure as a center point to generate collaboration amongst mobility-focused stakeholders. It will be a catalyst for private investment in Michigan’s infrastructure to spark job creation, create long-term revenue streams, attract new private investment, and attract more talent to the region.

“Today we recognize the importance of coming together to design, develop, and deploy complex mobility solutions,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. “We stand at the cusp of a future mobility revolution, and it will take innovative public-private partnerships like FLITE to put entrepreneurs across our state at the forefront. Governor Whitmer and I will continue working hard to put Michigan in the lead on future mobility, grow our economy, and build prosperity in our communities.”

“As an economic catalyst in the region, it was a natural fit to introduce FLITE as it is proven that where companies test, they often invest, hire local, and add value to the business community,” said Tory Richardson, president and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. “We were ecstatic to offer this select group of companies the opportunity to present their products and services to a global market, providing them with a workspace to test and develop so they can scale to meet the demands of larger airports across the world.”

Federal, state, and regional business and community leaders gathered to commemorate the grantees through demo day, which presented each company’s technology for partners to interact with and shared insights garnered over the past few months.

Through FLITE, WHILL accomplished the world-first achievement of having its autonomous device takes users through each step of their travel journey, from check-in, through TSA security, to their gate – the first end-to-end solution of its kind.

Stantec Generation AV(R), the autonomous vehicle practice of Edmonton, Canada-based global design firm Stantec, provided world-class experience in AV planning and deployment, including safety verification for the three companies.

Grand Rapids-based Seamless, an organization with proven experience building and operating cross-sector, public-private innovation platforms provided global scouting, project coordination and overall program support.

“By definition, innovation is doing things that haven't been done before. Change is hard. There is no map for how to take and grow a new idea” said Mike Morin, Director at Seamless. “With FLITE, we have created a safe space to deploy new ideas and technologies in a live environment enabling fast learning cycles based on real-world situations. Over this first round of projects, FLITE has helped our innovators achieve new milestones and major learnings.”

Southwest Airlines will provide free flights to each company to showcase their products and services to organizations and airports across the nation that could benefit from their solutions.

“At Southwest, we’re thrilled to welcome the first cohort of FLITE grantees onboard our aircraft and help connect them on their journey to bring their products to market,” said Kevin Kleist, emerging trends advisor at Southwest Airlines. “We look forward to gaining key insights into the technologies they’re developing for the airline and travel industries as well as continuing our support for the second round of grantees.”

With the success of these projects, FLITE has officially now opened the application process for the second round of grants. Applications can be submitted HERE. The deadline for Round II applications is June 30, 2022. Additional rounds of funding are forthcoming.

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit For Pure Michigan® tourism information, your trip begins at Join the conversation on: Facebook Instagram LinkedIn, and Twitter.