Robot gets stuck with cleaning duties at Metro Airport

2022-05-28 09:24:39 By : Ms. Stella Lee

SAFI has been making the rounds at Detroit Metro Airport’s McNamara Terminal in the wee hours of the morning quietly disinfecting large swaths of the facility to help keep it safe for travelers and employees. 

Another SAFI, or autonomous sanitizing robot, will soon be doing the same at Delta’s terminals at LaGuardia Airport as the robot — created by Pratt Miller, a New Hudson-based company — is being added there, too. SAFI is intended to complement  cleanings by people and provide an extra layer of confidence about sanitizing in this COVID-19 environment. 

“Our SAFI disinfecting robots were developed out of our mobility business unit,” said Christopher Andrews, director of Mobility & Innovation at Pratt Miller, an Oakland County firm that has 350 employees. SAFI is a word used in different languages that means  "safe," "clean" and "pure."

Pratt Miller has made its mark in auto-racing circles (it has been an integral part of Corvette Racing for decades). In recent years, it has  also been involved with electric vehicles, hydrogen cell vehicles, even the international space station. 

Started in 1989 by Gary Pratt and Jim Miller, the company is setting its sights on tapping into new markets with SAFI — assembly plants, schools, theaters, casinos, sports arenas, even big-box stores. Currently, the company has  10 robots in various stages of development with one that will be used at the North American International Auto Show in September. 

“Our robot can more effectively cover a very large area at a lower cost, with very detailed and designed coverage, while also providing a report of exactly where SAFI disinfected and if there were any anomalies with the route or mission,” said Andrews. 

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SAFI’s story is one of many showing how our region became the “arsenal of health”  as companies threw product development time frames out the window and worked quickly to make equipment and supplies needed in the fight against COVID-19. 

“Pratt Miller’s commitment to developing technology solutions that solve real-world problems underscores the depth of our state’s mobility sector,” said Trevor Pawl, chief mobility officer for the state of Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. MEDC gave Pratt Miller  a $50,000 grant to help in the testing of SAFI last year.

“This latest innovation is a testament to Pratt Miller’s mobility engineering expertise and further solidifies Michigan’s highly collaborative environment as the ideal place to take robotic and autonomous technology from development to deployment. It’s innovations like this that shine light on our model approach of leveraging public-private partnerships to accelerate the future of mobility.” 

Pratt Miller tested SAFI at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids last year. It went well, they learned from it and introduced SAFI at the Detroit airport last month. ISS is among their first customers.

“SAFI has been received very well both by the airlines and passengers,” said Jeff Holaly of ISS, the global facilities services provider for Delta Airlines. “Everybody gets excited when they see SAFI and it brings confidence that they know they’re entering a clean facility.” 

The customer buying SAFI determines how often the robot sprays and how large an area. A battery powers it. SAFI can cover from 50,000-500,000 square feet, and there are battery size options to ensure the proper power is available for the location. It electrostatically sprays down large spaces and surfaces such as lockers in schools or gaming tables in casinos, and allows the maintenance staff to focus on spaces that require a personal touch.

“SAFI is designed to disinfect large areas," Andrews said. It utilizes its electric propulsion to navigate these areas. Once mapped and the disinfecting mission is developed (this is the setup phase usually lasting a few days to a few weeks depending upon complexity and size of location), the unit runs missions daily. 

SAFI has a 16-gallon tank capacity that carries FDA-approved disinfectants.  As SAFI is working, it reports back on what surfaces were covered, when they were  covered, how much disinfectant was used and if there were any problems.  The company says the sensor and data analytic capability is a first in the disinfecting industry. 

“We have a 30-year history of quickly solving complicated problems with smart engineering and cutting-edge technology, and when we saw how COVID-19 was disrupting the travel industry, we were quick to offer our product to airports,” said Simon Dean, vice president of Pratt Miller’s Mobility and Core Engineering. 

Amid other changes, Pratt Miller’s cofounders decided it was time to retire but wanted to find a company to sell it to that would maintain the culture and principles of their company. They reached an agreement with Oshkosh Corp., a publicly traded company they had worked with. The deal — worth $115 million — is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of 2021. Pratt Miller will remain a wholly owned subsidiary. 

“Pratt Miller’s motorsports heritage has created a culture of speed and agility that has defined our success. Oshkosh is an ideal partner for us to apply that mindset to some of the most significant challenges facing customers today,” Matt Carroll, CEO of Pratt Miller, said when the deal was announced in December. 

As SAFI continues to find traction, officials believe it is a product that will have a long life — even after this pandemic winds down. 

“Our team, customers and industry experts believe that this new level of disinfecting is going to remain as a differentiator for facilities well into the future,” said Andrews. “Just as cleanliness has been a differentiator for facilities and brands in the past, the ability for a company or facility to add confidence of disinfecting level will become a new normal.” 

Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at its new time, 7:30 am Sundays on CBS 62. See Ric DeVore, Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, Joe Richardson and Dave Lorenz on this Sunday’s show.