A new company in Akron is designing and making unmanned aircraft, called drones, as their use is taking off worldwide.
The devices have been in the news: Amazon is studying using them for package deliveries, they’re patrolling the U.S. border and some pilots have spotted them near their planes. On Wednesday, the U.S. House heard testimony on expanded uses.
The Akron company, Event 38, makes the miniature airplanes for small and medium-size enterprises. Many are bought by farmers, who can use them to inspect hundreds of acres of crops, said Event 38 owner and founder Jeff Taylor.
“You can tell how healthy an individual plant is from the air,” he said.
“The custom optical sensors allow farmers to pick up on problem areas really early on,” Taylor continued. “You can see either the plant is under stress [or] find out if a drainage tile is broken.”
Wednesday, the region’s nonprofit Innovation Fund said it has awarded $25,000 to Event 38, as well another Akron startup, BioMendics LLC, which is developing a gel to heal wounds. The fund is designed to help young companies at early stages of development.
“The money is definitely going to help us,” said Taylor, an aerospace engineer who graduated from Case Western Reserve University.
Last year, Taylor moved into Canal Place, the former B.F. Goodrich complex downtown. A friend has another startup business there and told him about the inexpensive rent.
Event 38 plans to use the $25,000 to develop software that farmers and others can use to manage and analyze all the images and other data gathered by the optical sensors on the drones.
Since launching in early 2012, Event 38 has sold “in the hundreds” of drones, Taylor said. Farmers aren’t the only customer.
“There’s a million uses,” he said.
One customer uses a drone for research on sea turtle nests along the coast of Mexico. Another Event 38 drone recently flew over a remote river valley in western Uganda, providing images for a possible dam project. About half of Event 38’s drones go to customers outside the United States.
The company, with 13 full- and part-time employees, primarily designs and manufactures fixed-wing drones that look like small airplanes. They typically are 4 feet long and have a 6-foot wing span. The engine, batteries and a guidance system are contained inside a foamlike polymer.
The company gets its name from a project that Taylor was involved with while working at SpaceX, the Los Angeles-headquartered maker of spacecraft.
BioMendics’ wound-healing gel contains liquid crystals, as well as other ingredients. Spread on a wound, the gel dries and forms a film, allowing skin cells to migrate and fill the wound.
The $25,000 “will allow us to do some key and essential experiments to move the product forward,” said BioMendics’ Karen McGuire.
She and her business partners would like to see the product on the market in 2018. They need FDA approval.
Other partners are: Chun-Che Tsai, a retired Kent State University chemistry professor; James Jamison, who has done research at Summa Health System; and Jack Summers, a urologist. McGuire worked with Tsai while she was a graduate student at Kent State; she received her doctorate from the school.
A third area company, OcuFreeze of Stark County, also received $25,000 from the fund.
The Lorain County Community College Foundation started the Innovation Fund. Partners include the University of Akron and Northeast Ohio Medical University.