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$1M Prize for Bridge Inspection by Drones
AutoModality, whose technology allows drones to automatically conduct close-up inspections of bridges, buildings, power lines and other structures, has won the $1 million grand prize in the Genius NY business competition.
A panel of seven judges selected the company after the competition’s six finalists made 10-minutes pitches to them at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown Wednesday evening.
Ed Koch, AutoModality’s chief technology officer and one of its three principals, said the company will use the money to hire employees.
“We’re going to start hiring personnel and setting up operations here in New York,” he said.
Koch and his two partners, CEO Dan Hennage and Aviation Director Jimmy Halliday, started AutoModality in the San Francisco area two and a half years ago. Koch and Hennage are engineers. Halliday is an airplane pilot and experienced drone operator.
The company says it has developed technology that allows unmanned vehicles equipped with cameras, sensors and computers to automatically inspect structures in situations that are not possible using manual control or commercially available autopilots. Koch said the company’s drones can fly within three feet of the objects, using computerized optics, not GPS, to control their movements and avoid collisions with the objects they are inspecting.
“We’re still in R&D, but we’re finalizing contracts with customers,” said Koch. “We’re ready to launch.”
The other five finalists did not walk away empty handed. Ascent AeroSystems, which makes drones that can be carried in a backpack, received the second-place prize of $600,000. OmniMesh, which is designing a wireless network protocol that it says will boost drone safety and security, received the third-place prize of $400,000.
The three runners-up received $250,000 each. They are EZ3D, which uses drones to photograph and measure buildings; Akrobotix, which develops autonomous navigation systems for drones; and SkyOp, which offers classes in how to fly drones.
The six finalists had previously been selected from among 250 applicants and moved into the Syracuse Technology Garden in January.
All six companies will spend a year receiving mentoring and other assistance from the Technology Garden, a business incubator operated by CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity in downtown Syracuse.
Genius NY is being funded with a $5 million grant from Empire State Development, New York’s economic development arm, and is modelled after the 43North program in Buffalo.
Howard Zemsky, president and CEO or Empire State Development and commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, announced at the event that the state will provide a $5 million grant to fund the contest again next year. The grants fund the cash prizes and other costs associated with the program.
CenterState officials hope all six finalists will make Syracuse their permanent home. In return for the investment they are receiving from the Genius NY competition, they will be required to give CenterState a 5 percent ownership stake in the companies.
Koch said AutoModality would have made Central New York its home even if it had not won the competition because it wants to be close to Griffiss International Airport in the Oneida County city of Rome. The airport is one of six sites around the country chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct research into integrating unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace system.
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