Dec. 6--Charleston businessmen have invented a product that could change the face of aviation fueling and security worldwide.
The device looks like a television remote control and uses wireless biometric technology to read fingerprints, allowing only authorized users access to aviation fueling systems.
About 4 1/2 years ago, Scott Miller, co-owner of the airplane fueling station at Yeager Airport, wanted a way to make sure his employees couldn't jam a switch that controlled fuel flowing into an aircraft and then walk away.
The danger was that fuel could overflow on to the ground and contaminate drinking water, leading to costly cleanups, delayed flights and hefty federal fines.
Miller talked with John Weete, president of the West Virginia University Research Corp., about ways to turn his idea into a product, which is what WVU researchers did.
Weete's staff also hooked up Miller's company, MAV LLC, with an Australian company, Microlatch, which makes similar types of devices.
"It's a real-world problem. We've come up with a solution," Miller said.
He's certain no one else makes this type of nonjamming device. The three companies and WVU have a patent pending.
MAV and Microlatch officials signed a long-term manufacturing contract in September and plan to deliver the product to distributors in February.
The device will initially be made in Australia. But Microlatch is opening its first U.S. office in New York in February. West Virginia workers could one day make the devices.
So far, businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Asia have asked about the device, said Microlatch CEO Chris Burke. The inventors figure they can make at least $50 million in the airline-fueling market.
The devices have been used on two fueling trucks at Yeager for the past four months problem-free. And they're not limited to aviation equipment.
"It's basically a homeland security thing," Burke said.
Banks can install the device onto automated teller machines to provide another layer of security, said Jack Vaughan, MAV's vice president of technology. ATM users would swipe their cards, enter their personal identification numbers and touch a pad that would read their fingerprints.
The team is working with five banks on installing the technology, Vaughan said. The biometric device would serve as a fraud deterrent even if a potential criminal never touched it, he said, because thieves would be less likely to leave their fingerprint on the machine, as to avoid leaving evidence for the police.
People can also use the device to regulate the flow of chemicals and hazardous materials from one container to another. Other uses include making sure the satellite poles that sprout up on television stations' remote broadcasting trucks don't rise into power lines and preventing cuts from sandblasting equipment mistakenly left on.
The wireless device is exactly the type of product the WVU Research Corp. is looking for. Each year, its Office of Technology Transfer gets 40 to 50 applications from inventors. Employees evaluate each one to see if it has commercial potential and is patentable.
If they think it's a good idea, they'll help the researchers. If there's intellectual property, they evaluate the market potential and protect it through the patent.
"[We're] trying to move our discoveries closer to commercialization," Weete said. "We want to see economic development come from much of our research."
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