Prattt Miller Engineering’s Safi autonomous disinfecting robot is being used at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Photo courtesy of Pratt Miller Engineering

December 24, 2020: Dustin Walsh, Crain’s Detroit Business

The COVID-19 pandemic is providing new business growth for New Hudson-based Pratt Miller Engineering.

The engineering and prototype development company secured a contract with facility services company ISS A/S, which provides custodial services to airports, casinos, stadiums and office buildings, and service provider for Delta Air Lines. ISS placed two of the robots, called Safi, at the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Another robot is on order for the airport, said Christopher Andrews, director of mobility and innovation at Pratt Miller.

ISS also plans to use a Safi robot at the Delta Air Lines gates at La Guardian Airport in New York.

Pratt Miller designed the robot at the behest of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which awarded grants to companies that could help stop the spread of COVID-19 in places of public transit. Pratt Miller, which also designs robots for the U.S. Department of Defense, received a $50,000 grant for the robot development.

The company declined to reveal the cost of the robots.

The robot was tested at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids over the summer. Andrews said the company is working on a deal to return a Safi to the airport.

The robot is roughly 2 by 4 feet and contains a 16-gallon tank that carries an U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved disinfectant. The robot’s battery capacity allows for it to operate for up to 10 hours, spraying the electrostatic disinfectant on the high-touch surfaces in public spaces.

The robot, though autonomous with the ability to sense, stop and maneuver around people, largely operates at night when the airport is least busy, Andrews said.

Pratt Miller has the capacity to manufacture up to 50 of the Safi robots per month, but would seek a contract manufacturer if demand exceeded that figure, Andrews said.

The company hopes the robots will be a popular service for casinos, cruise ships, big box retailers and stadiums when patrons eventually return when COVID-19 becomes less of a threat.

“I think disinfecting is going to remain a priority for most companies operating in big public spaces from now on,” Andrew said. “These things (viruses) come along every 10 years. We had SARs, now COVID. There will be another one. And we’re just not sure how much this is going to go away.”