Pittsburgh International Airport’s Innovation Center Welcomes Three Tech Firms

Feb. 19, 2021

 Move over, UV robots. You’re getting company. Three homegrown tech firms have joined Pittsburgh International Airport’s xBridge innovation center, the latest additions to PIT’s innovation portfolio.

The three firms — Zensors, Carnegie Robotics and RE2 — join Fortune 100 company Honeywell in selecting xBridge as the ideal place to test and develop their products.

The xBridge is a 10,000-square-foot  innovation center  custom-built  to  nurture the evolution of the aviation industry and inspire creative solutions to its many challenges.

Commonly found in the tech sector, innovation centers bring various aspects of the product development process together into one space devoted to maximizing brainpower, resources and testing new ideas in real time.

“During a time of crisis, innovation is imperative,” said Katherine Karolick, senior vice president of Information Technology at PIT. “Reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and developing improved passenger and staff safety measures are all key. Small, specialized tech companies and startups have a deep understanding in emerging technology, are nimble, and are experts at working in an innovation model.”

Two of the three Pittsburgh tech firms are already familiar to the airport. In 2019,  Zensors developed and deployed cameras around the security checkpoint that use an artificial intelligence system to calculate wait times in real-time.

“What we’d like to do is build on our momentum with our partners at Pittsburgh International and start to roll out other applications,” said Chris Harrison, co-founder, Zensors.

“We want to be able to run artificial intelligence on the gate when the planes are loading. For example, start looking at what type of baggage is brought on board. We want to make the airport cleaner—we want to look at litter, we want to look at bathroom utilization, so that every passenger’s experience is as good as it can be.”

Carnegie Robotics partnered with PIT in 2020 to roll out autonomous robotic floor scrubbers with UV light, a first for U.S. airports. There are now four self-driving scrubbers — named for aviation pioneers Orville, Wilbur, Amelia, and Rosa — roaming the airport, cleaning and disinfecting the floors. Carnegie Robotics staff can often be found swabbing the floors, testing the efficacy of the scrubbers’ cleaning measures.

Carnegie Robotics chief financial officer Daniel Beaven said the partnership with the airport has allowed his team to develop more advanced designs of the scrubbers with stronger UV, increasing disinfection power.

“It’s been great to be able to work at the airport to test it here at a time when there’s a lot of stress on hospitals and there wasn’t necessarily a place to test,” Beaven said. “So far, we’ve been able to do three complete revisions of the design and get it to a viable commercial product that we’re now releasing with a large multinational equipment provider.”

The newest tech partner is RE2 Robotics, based in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Emblematic of the new Pittsburgh economy, the company is located in an old locomotive manufacturing building. RE2 CEO Jorgen Pedersen said his company aims to empower humans to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

“We need access to a real-world environment where we can gather data,” he said. “[At the airport] we can make observations, understand operational flow and make informed decisions during the design process.”

RE2 develops mobile robotic arms for use in a variety of complex environments that provide human-like capabilities beyond traditional industrial arms and cooperative robots and is testing solutions for the aviation industry.

Earlier in 2021, the airport announced its partnership with Honeywell. The global company is using the xBridge to develop a live dashboard measuring air quality, which will help airport staff identify and correct issues in real time. Based on the success of pilot systems, PIT may expand that technology throughout the airport.

A network of sensors connected to the dashboard, which is integrated into existing systems within the airport, provide real-time updates on air quality to help facilities staff quickly identify and correct critical building issues to help reduce the spread of airborne disease such as COVID-19. The Honeywell Healthy Buildings dashboard at xBridge measures key indoor air quality parameters such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

Karolick said more partnership commitments are in the pipeline as companies are ready to take proof of concepts to pilot projects and need a real-world environment to do that.

“It’s not just about the space, but the ecosystem. Innovation at its best includes startups, midsize tech, big tech, and universities. We have that in Pittsburgh and the xBridge taps into the talent of the region. For our partners, having the ecosystem in our innovation center is critical.”