Whether you grew up watching the Jetson’s animated television series or saw the 1990 “Jetsons: The Movie,” you will remember that George Jetson and his family zipped through the air or space in flying cars. At the time, viewers like me thought that flying cars were both a wildly impossible aspiration and a joke; they were never going to exist in real life. Fast forward to 2021 and flying cars are a reality.
They are not part of everyday life or available to every consumer yet. However, the prototypes of flying cars are being tested, refined, and re-tested right here in Southwest Ohio. The first production model of the Austin, Texas-based LIFT Aircraft HEXA – the world’s first personal electric, vertical takeoff, and landing (eVTOL) aircraft - was delivered to the Department of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio for air-worthiness testing in February 2021.
There is a special satisfaction in that the Wright Brothers’ invention of powered flight – the most significant and world-changing technological revolution – took place right here in Dayton. Now it appears fairly certain that this region will participate in the next revolution of flight: flying cars.
Driven by revolutionary technologies, the process of innovation has evolved significantly since the early 20th Century. The hands-on, mechanical invention process still exists but is challenged by groundbreaking developments in artificial intelligence, autonomy, data analytics, human performance, and unmanned aerial systems.
It is without a doubt that NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as other giants of defense technology, have laid the foundations for some of society’s most transformational technologies. What is often missed is how critical U.S. industry and academia innovation provide the innovative bedrock for those giants’ profound successes. Nonetheless, their genius is in their visions that assimilate, aggregate, and integrate existing science and technology and shape it into a rocket that takes us to space or a GPS system that makes our cars safer.
Other giants like Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) based in Arlington, Virginia, Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta, Georgia and SRI International in Menlo Park, California also advance this “innovation to impact pipeline” that transforms our world and improves our lives. Closer to home, however, in Central and Southwestern Ohio, we can boast our significant strength in applied research with organizations like Battelle Memorial Institute near Columbus, the University of Dayton Research Institute in Dayton, and my company – Parallax Advanced Research - among others.
Based in Dayton, Parallax Advanced Research provides a gateway for nationwide academia and industry to work with such giants, specifically agencies of the U.S. government, on science and technology innovation, development, and commercialization. Four of our programs - the Ohio Federal Research Network, Department of the Air Force Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment, also known as APEX, Tech Warrior Enterprise and Launch Dayton - have the goal of building strategic networks with innovators in industry and academia in Ohio and nationwide and connecting them with government funding opportunities to help them rapidly innovate the next generation of science and technology to support our national defense strategies.
It is those programs that allow Parallax to assist with the development of flying cars in Ohio.
Specifically, our Ohio Federal Research Network funded the research and development of GhostWave Inc.’s novel detection and avoidance system (DAAS) for drones and flying cars. The technology is a lightweight, low-power sensor system that detects and alerts the pilot of potential collision threats with other air traffic. In addition, technology developed by researchers at The Ohio State University allows the GhostWave Inc. radar technology to be immune from jamming and interference with other drones. That technology is now the theme of collaborative discussions between GhostWave Inc. and LIFT Aircraft. GhostWave Inc. has proposed the implementation of its DAAS onto LIFT Aircraft’s HEXA. Furthermore, the DAAS technology was awarded a Phase I AFWERX Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract and will now be transitioned into a Department of the Air Force capability. Parallax’s APEX program helped GhostWave Inc. successfully apply for this award. GhostWave Inc. is a startup based in Hilliard, Ohio.
APEX is a national Department of the Air Force partnership intermediary program with a five-year, $49 million contract. APEX enhances academic engagement with industry and the Department of the Air Force nationwide to advance defense technology development and transition. Since 2019, APEX has created 305 connections between industry, academia, and the Department by utilizing its in-house data analytics capability to identify and target academic and industry researchers of interest to the Department. APEX assisted 83 small businesses during the Department’s STTR X20.D solicitation for Agility Prime, resulting in 65 proposal submissions and 50 awards totaling approximately $7.5 million, and expanding the Department’s small business ecosystem for advanced air mobility.
When technologies are ready for demonstration, the Tech Warrior Enterprise program, managed by Parallax on behalf of the Department of the Air Force’s Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs, provides small businesses an environment for their technologies that simulates actual field conditions and allows for real-time feedback from a variety of Department stakeholders. In December 2020, Parallax was awarded a $12.38 million contract to further develop Tech Warrior Enterprise for the Department. In 2020, Tech Warrior Enterprise conducted over 80 events involving over 1,000 small business participants from across the U.S.
Then, there is Parallax’s Launch Dayton program that provides an easily accessible environment, high-caliber programming, and a connected network of champions, mentors, and resource providers, that enable Dayton-based entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed in their pursuits. Early Risers Academy, a quarterly business planning boot camp, is designed for aspiring founders in any industry and offers a free 10-week pre-accelerator course that teaches entrepreneurs how to take their businesses from idea to launch. In March 2021, the Launch Dayton team moved to Downtown Dayton’s The Hub powered by PNC Bank and puts the team in the heart of Dayton’s entrepreneurial community. Since the start of 2020, Launch Dayton has served over 100 entrepreneurs; 56% minority, 54% women, and 12% veteran. The team also shared 136 success stories across the region and with media as well as served over 1,500 attendees through virtual community events.
This is a prime example of how significant and, even, world-changing, leaps in products and services can happen when academia, industry, and the government collaborate. Best of all, Parallax is just one example of an organization with the mission to help facilitate those collaborations and the assimilation and integration of existing or developing pieces of technology into the government. Our role is finding innovators, supporting them, and helping them refine their individual technological pieces that, when assembled correctly together, create breakthrough products that advance our national defense and our future.
Dennis Andersh is the president and chief executive officer of Parallax Advanced Research