Innovations enhance security and operations of passenger, cargo and military aircraft fleets around the world.
Port San Antonio, the 1,900-acre technology campus and industrial airport located southwest of the city’s downtown, is leading efforts to showcase the ways in which locally-developed innovations in digital security, robotics and other applied sciences are transforming how aircraft are maintained, upgraded and modernized around the world.
The Port headed a delegation of businesses and partner organizations to participate in Aviation Week’s MRO Americas 2019 convention in Atlanta, Georgia, from April 9 to 11. The event was the world’s premiere gathering for technologies that support the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of the global fleets of commercial and military aircraft.
The large exhibit that showcased San Antonio’s technologies was a partnership between the Port, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF) and the City of San Antonio’s Economic Development Department. The two organizations collaborate with the Port and its customers to provide strategic support to aerospace and other advanced technology companies that locate and expand in the region.
San Antonio is one of America’s fastest-growing cities and has diverse and mature industry sectors. In addition to being the home of modern aviation, the Alamo City has significant industry clusters driving global innovation in an array of other sectors, including cybersecurity, computing, defense, energy, advanced manufacturing, biosciences and financial services.
The Port, which oversees strategic redevelopment of the former Kelly Air Force Base, is leading the regional growth of many of these fields. Over the course of the twentieth century, Kelly was the world’s first major platform for aviation maintenance and innovation. Since the base’s closure in 2001, the Port has grown and modernized the property as a 21st-century aerospace hub. Today, the campus is home to large operations by Boeing, StandardAero and other industry leaders.
The Port has also attracted numerous complementary operations that are driving innovations in the aerospace sector and other mature industries. Of note is the presence of major cybersecurity and robotics / applied technology organizations.
The organization is similarly collaborating with other advanced research and educational partners in the region who also presented their work at MRO Americas as they develop innovations in close collaboration with the aerospace industry.
At MRO Americas, the Port highlighted its own plans to launch the first phase of an innovation center in the heart of its property. The inaugural facility—spanning over 130,000 square feet—will serve as a strategic site to leverage the region’s human capital, industry expertise and expansive capabilities in education. This collaborative space will accelerate the development of new technologies and serve as a showroom to sell those innovations to global markets, particularly in the aviation, energy, defense, manufacturing and biomedical sectors. Components of the first building will include a technology arena, co-working facilities for prototyping and a combination technology museum and industry showroom.
Conceptual renderings of Port San Antonio’s planned innovation center.
The San Antonio delegation at MRO Americas also included:
- Plus One Robotics —Headquartered at Port San Antonio, the company develops artificial intelligence (AI) software for industrial robots used by logistics and e-commerce operations around the world. Through this innovative technology, the company’s clients are able to shift their employees into greater value-added roles as robots are used to complete monotonous tasks such as package sorting, induction or decanting.
Plus One has led the industry by developing a system that can be integrated into any brand of existing industrial robot. Unlike traditional robots that can only accomplish a limited range of pre-programmed tasks, units outfitted with Plus One’s AI technology can learn and adapt in changing industrial environments—adjusting to situations such as surges in work flows and packages of variable types and sizes that roll down conveyor belts in large logistics operations.
- Reckon Point —Also headquartered at the Port, the company specializes in outfitting robots with sensors that allow for high-speed precision mapping of commercial and industrial interiors. This technology has already been deployed to create maps of airport terminals and amenities and can further be integrated into applications used by operators or passengers. Reckon Point’s solutions are also utilized by operators of large industrial facilities—including aerospace workshops / hangars and factories—as production lines are reconfigured.
- Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) —The globally-renowned applied research nonprofit showcased new solutions it is developing that allow for the rapid and environmentally-sound de-painting of an aircraft’s exterior. The technology consists of large industrial robots outfitted with lasers that remove paint with micron-precision accuracy—a method that does not rely on traditional chemical solvents and which significantly accelerates the speed with which aircraft are re-painted as operators such as airlines re-brand their fleet and when aircraft are sold between operators.
- Booz Allen Hamilton —The Virginia-based management and information technology firm has a longstanding presence at the Port and throughout the region, where it provides cybersecurity and other consultancy services to an array of government clients, including the 24th Air Force Cyber Command headquartered on the Port campus and the 25th Air Force Intelligence headquartered at Lackland AFB. At MRO Americas, the firm showcased its aircraft and aircrew virtual reality training products that leverage consumer grade technologies —innovations that create platforms supporting training, information, and operational management. These technologies present highly technical and complex aircraft training concepts that help bridge the gap between the classroom and the physical aircraft.
- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) —As America’s top university for numerous cybersecurity specializations, UTSA has fortified its status as a leading center in delivering programs focused on the security of aviation and other critical infrastructure. Two top students attended the MRO conference and showcased their cybersecurity research innovations.
Attendees experienced augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology that the students developed aimed at studying and addressing cybersickness—a type of motion sickness that is becoming more prevalent as a growing number of global professions require people to look at three-dimensional graphics, such as flight simulators, for extended periods of time.
UTSA also recently launched its National Security and Collaboration Center (NSCC), which advances research, education and workforce development in cybersecurity, data analytics and cloud computing, including projects like those showcased at MRO Americas.
The NSCC is building a collaborative ecosystem—of which Port San Antonio is also part—engaging government, industry and academia to address urgent cybersecurity issues across the nation.
UTSA’s downtown campus is within 10 minutes of Port San Antonio and is the site for the university’s growing National Security and Collaboration Center (NSCC).