BUZZ IN THE SKY — A drone captures videos and still images in this Associated Press file photo. Unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, and related systems were a focus of a high-tech contest that awarded $2.75 million in state money to six tech startup companies. (AP photo)

Drones have Genius NY program buzzing about potential impact

Published Mar 20, 2017 at 4:00pm

It didn’t garner a cash prize, but the unmanned vehicle system test site at Griffiss International Airport comes out a winner in the Genius NY business competition. 

Unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, and related systems were a focus of the contest that awarded $2.75 million in state money to six tech startup companies that now operate in Syracuse.

Griffiss airport is one of six sites around the country chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2013 to evaluate integrating commercial unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, into the national airspace. The site is managed by the NUAIR Alliance, which is affiliated with Syracuse-based CenterState CEO.

“The teams participating in the Genius NY program will all work directly, in varying ways, with the NUAIR test site,” said Eleanor Hanna, spokeswoman for the alliance. “These teams represent the kinds of innovations we are hoping to advance in the UAS sector in the region in order to realize the resulting economic impact.”

She added, “These teams are committed to growing their companies in the region and see the test site as a critical asset to advancing their technologies.”

Six teams pitched their business plans to a panel of judges and a live audience on Wednesday. Following the pitches, all of the competitors were awarded one of six investments.

The top prize of $1 million went to AutoModality, a team out of California dedicated to creating autonomous mobile systems that sense, explore, and analyze the world around them. The company is currently focused on inspection of agriculture and infrastructure assets from the air.

Ascent Aerosystems was awarded the second place prize of $600,000; OmniMesh was named third place, winning $400,000. The other three finalists, Akrobotix, EZ3D and SkyOp, were awarded $250,000 each. “Each team is poised to have a positive impact on the UAS industry in the region,” said Lawrence Brinker, executive director and general counsel of NUAIR and a competition judge. “I look forward to working with these companies and connecting them to the resources of the NUAIR Alliance in order to foster their growth.”

AutoModality representatives said the company would have made Central New York its home even if it had not taken top prize in the contest because it wants to be close to Griffiss so it can use the test site.

The six finalists had previously been selected from among 250 applicants and moved into the Syracuse Technology Garden business incubator in January. All six companies will spend a year
receiving mentoring and other assistance. 

Genius NY is funded by Empire State Development. The competition and winning companies align with the CNY Rising economic development initiative, which calls for major investments in the unmanned aircraft systems industry in Central New York. Last November, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $30 million in Upstate Revitalization Initiative funds would be invested to develop a 50-mile flight traffic management system between Syracuse and Griffiss airport to advance the burgeoning UAS industry in the region.

It is projected that within the 50-mile corridor, strategic investments will accelerate industry growth by supporting emerging uses of unmanned aircraft systems in key upstate industries, including agriculture and forest management, transportation and logistics, media and film development, utilities and infrastructure, and public safety.

“The Genius NY program is a perfect example of how Oneida County and CenterState CEO’s strong partnership is solidifying Central New York and the Mohawk Valley as the epicenter of unmanned aircraft systems in the nation,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “ I am excited to see where the winners of this round of the competition will take our region’s UAS industry, and look forward to what the next round will hold.”

The state will commit $5 million to support a second round of the business accelerator for 2018. Genius NY II applications will accepted for three months beginning in June.