Local innovators earned $30,000 in prize money this week after offering the U.S. Air Force at Kirtland Air Force Base some novel ideas to protect aircraft against desert dust, chase flocks of nesting pigeons from hangars, and efficiently manage student flight training schedules.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Technology Engagement Office asked local entrepreneurs to help Kirtland solve those issues through a new Enterprize Challenge launched in July. The competition culminated Wednesday night in a grand finale at Innovate ABQ’s Lobo Rainforest building Downtown, where the AFRL awarded $30,000 in cash prizes to the top three innovation teams.
Albuquerque-based chemical engineering firm Anox Consulting took first-place with $15,000 for proposing thin film coatings that could naturally repel sand and dust from sticking to CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, which Kirtland frequently flies in the New Mexico desert to take advantage of Middle East-like terrain here. The dust clouds cause major damage to the craft.
The second-place, $10,000 award went to two local entrepreneurs, Mike Voorhees and Eric Mechenbier of Mechenbier IT, who teamed up to create an automated online scheduling system to coordinate Kirtland’s virtually nonstop day and night student training flights.
New startup company Dataless Technology Group (DTG) won third place with $5,000 for its “mechanized avian disruption system,” or MADS, which proposes a network of continuously-rotating car wash brushes that would be strung along rails attached to hangar ceilings to scare pigeons away. The pigeons have created a “poop problem” in the hangars.
Air Force officers had specifically requested assistance with those problems and others.
“We’ve never done anything like this before, here or across the Air Force,” said AFRL Technology Engagement Office Director Matt Fetrow at the award ceremony. “It’s a new way to tap innovation in the local community to help the Air Force solve problems.”
Innovators and entrepreneurs registered 134 potential solutions to seven different issues through the competition, 31 of which were selected for two days of informal pitches in September, said Gabe Mounce, AFRL New Mexico’s economic development lead. The three award-winning finalists were chosen from those presentations, but Kirtland-based Air Force entities will continue to work with many of the Enterprize participants to consider adopting their solutions.
“This is just the beginning,” Mounce said. “This process doesn’t end with these cash prizes.”
Apart from potential future Air Force contracts, the pigeon control startup plans to market its MADS system to commercial airports across the U.S., said company co-founder Matthew Ayoub.
The AFRL also awarded $500 to Sandia Preparatory School for a student-designed proposal to drive pigeons out of hangars with strong odors and then entice them into man-made habitats. Sandia’s participation aimed to excite students about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, said school innovation program director Daniel DeLeon.
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